Q: I am enclosing a recent letter to the editor in which one of your readers criticized President Obama for appointing a Muslim to be assistant director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The reader seemed particularly concerned because he said she had just finished a seminar in Muslim psychology as if she were learning how to influence others to allow ISIS terrorists into the country. Is this true or a right-wing scare story?
Joshua Griffin, of Maryville
A: I’m sure you know people who sometimes refuse to let facts stand in the way of promoting their political views. I’m afraid this is such a case.
While starting with a grain of truth (yes, a woman apparently of Muslim heritage was appointed to this agency), the letter quickly degenerates into misleading innuendo and outright fabrications to frighten us into thinking that Obama is filling the government with Muslim radicals to further his immigration agenda.
What’s worse (to me, at least) is that it feeds on the angst that’s finding popularity in the presidential campaigns of deep thinkers like Donald Trump, who is calling for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration. In this particular case, they would say, we have a woman with an Arabic name. Although she doesn’t promote it, she likely practices a “foreign” religion — Islam. As such, she sometimes pictures herself wearing strange clothes — a hijab for modesty. Because of all this — and without knowing anything else about her — countless fear-mongering websites, from which the letter writer apparently drew, suggest that she and her ilk will destroy the nation if left unchecked.
I don’t pretend to know what’s truly in this woman’s heart or mind. So, while I debunk the letter, let me simply tell you a little about her, and you can decide how big a threat she and others like her might pose to our domestic tranquility.
Her name is Fatima M. Noor. She spent her earliest years living in a blue tent at a United Nations refugee camp in Uganda. That’s where her family fled to escape the bloody civil war in her native Somalia.
“Most of the other children congregated over at the dumpsites and water wells, fashioning toys out of trash and rocks,” she wrote last June on the White House website in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month. “I kept to myself, a quiet but curious observer exploring the neighborhoods within the camp. These daily, miles-long excursions only left me hungry for more.”
Her dream was soon fulfilled. When a combination of wildfires and overpopulation forced the camp to close, her family returned to Somalia. Five-year-old Fatima was sent with a relative to a very strange land.
“Soon, I found myself in a kindergarten class in Denmark,” she wrote. “I still remember my very first recess, timidly sitting at the corner of a sandbox. I could not understand the words that fluttered past my ears, and etched themselves into my memory to this day: “vil du gerne lege med ... vil du voere med.”
A year later, she began learning the Danish language. She then understood what those “taunting” words from her classmates meant: “Would you like to play with us? Would you like to join us?”
Then, soon after the new millennium opened (while George W. Bush was president, I might add), her father immigrated to the United States, where he became an over-the-road trucker. After traveling the country, he decided to settle in the Southeast and began the paperwork needed to bring his wife and sons here from Somalia and Fatima from Denmark. In 2005, the family finally reunited in its new home in Memphis, Tenn.
“We soon adapted to Southern living — and yummy Memphis barbecue,” she wrote. “We bought a house down by the Mississippi River. My brother even attended the same middle school as Elvis Presley.”
On April 29, 2013, she returned to the auditorium stage where she had received her high school diploma to join 500 other people from more than 30 countries to take the Oath of Allegiance and become a U.S. citizen.
“Now, I felt like a true American,” she wrote.
A year later, she earned a B.A. from the University of Memphis with a major in psychology and minors in Spanish and international relations. She is the first in her family to earn a college degree. Her future took off. Within two months, she was one of three standout University of Memphis students to win presidential appointments to agencies in Washington, D.C. This is where the letter you enclosed turns into pure fiction on at least three points:
First, by all accounts, it was a run-of-the-mill governmental appointment decided by White House staff, not Obama himself.
Second, she was not made “assistant director.” There is no such position. Instead, she became a special assistant to the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Her duties? She helped coordinate speakers and locations for special naturalization services. Her first one was to commemorate the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Hardly a position from which to influence national policy.
Finally, there was no seminar on “Muslim psychology,” Michael Depew, director of the iSchool Inclusion Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, assured me. Yes, Noor attended the institute there, but it was a monthlong class into “Hacked: A Qualitative Analysis of Media Coverage of the Sony Pictures Data Breach.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is the kind of person we want to keep from working in the government or even entering the country because of their name, dress and religion. In the meantime, Noor last April became a policy assistant for immigration policy and rural affairs on the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. For pictures and more of her story, go to www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/06/29/other-side-camp. You even can find a picture of her sans hijab on her LinkedIn page.
In 1961, why did Reuben and Rose Mattus, who lived in the Bronx, name their new premium ice cream Häagen-Dazs?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: After serving in World War II, Robert Abplanalp returned to the quiet of his machine shop, where he invented a practical aerosol valve that could be mass-produced cheaply. When he was just 27, he founded the Precision Valve Corp. in 1949, and, by 1950, his company had produced 15 million valves, launching his business empire. He later became close friends with and a staunch supporter of President Richard Nixon. By the time he died of lung cancer in 2003 at age 81, he held more than 300 aerosol-related patents.