See something, say something goes wrong
To the Editor:
Christmas 2015, Hal Howard left a party at his pastor’s house, slowing his truck and honking as a 5-year-old girl was in the street. The girl’s Dad, Yousef Muslet, was outside playing with his kids, and he walked up to the truck and introduced himself. The conversation between Howard and Muslet was less than five minutes, and toward the end they shook hands.
Nine days later, Muslet opened his door to find six deputies from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, a canine unit and Howard himself. Muslet was handcuffed and arrested for his Christmas handshake with Howard. Muslet was charged with two felonies: battery and burglary – his hand was inside Howard’s truck – with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Howard, 75, is retired and has sworn off liquor, cigs and women. His chief indulgences are washing his truck and watching FOX TV.
Muslet, 51, has lived in Florida since he was 12. He sometimes wears a keffiyeh, sometimes jeans. He owns three boutiques. He started a program called Walking One Step, going door-to-door helping folks sign up for unemployment and other public benefits, saving them the hassle of bureaucracy. He says by doing good deeds, it softens the hearts of people towards Muslims. Nothing about Muslet suggests a propensity for violence. He is hopelessly American and an asset to his community. He embodies everything America asks of its immigrants.
At trial, Howard testified, “The little girl had evil in her eyes. And hate. The hairs on the back of my neck raised up.” The prosecution tried to avoid any mention of religion. But the topic kept winding its way into the trial. At one point, Howard was asked why the conversation with Muslet had scared him.
“Well, I’m a Christian, number one. I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins. And I have a father in Heaven. And none of them has a nickname called Allah. I felt like he was trying to force his God on me. I reported him because FOX TV said to report anything suspicious.” Palm Beach County is the center for anti- Islamic hate groups in Florida.
The far right has reshaped Americans’ views of Islam, bankrolling experts to argue that Muslims are waging a “stealth jihad” on democratic institutions. It is, in fact, the far right and the current resident of the White House who are destroying democracy, one institution at a time.
When Judge Peter Evans rendered his verdict, declaring Muslet innocent, Muslet, overcome, stood up. “Can I … can I … shake your hand, Judge?” There was an awkward silence, then laughter erupted in the courtroom. The judge looked uncertain. Finally, he motioned to his judicial robes, “Well, we’re both wearing dresses,” he replied.
“We all have the same God, we just serve him differently.” – Muhammad Ali.
“I feel like a stranger in the land where I was born.” – People’s Park, San Francisco 1970.