The political responses were as predictable as they were swift.
An FBI affidavit revealed that an Iranian man who had lived in Freeport for several years became radicalized, returned to the Middle East and died fighting for ISIS in Lebanon last year. Shortly after this news broke on Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, both Republicans, used the unusual turn of events to blast the Obama administration and to call for tighter restrictions on immigration, echoing a major theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“President Barack Obama’s immigration policies have been an utter failure and continue to jeopardize the safety of millions of Americans,” LePage said in a news release. “The screening process of immigrants has failed and will continue to place Americans at risk. We cannot afford to harbor radical Islamic sympathizers on our watch,” he added.
The facts, however, don’t fit with these prepackaged assertions that seek to score political points while maligning an entire group of immigrants. Such comments empower those who hold anti-immigrant views, as evidenced by the discovery of anti-Muslim notes at a Westbrook apartment complex Wednesday suggesting that Muslim immigrants should be killed.
The story of Adnan Fazeli, as told by his relatives and in an FBI affidavit seeking access to his social media accounts, is complex and filled with unanswered questions. But two things are clear: Fazeli came to the United States before Obama had a chance to put any new immigration policies in place and, like all refugees, he underwent multiple screenings before arriving in Maine, so it is pure speculation to say a more rigorous process could have determined that Fazeli would later become radicalized. Second, without tips from other Muslim immigrants, including Fazeli’s relatives, the FBI likely would not have known about Fazeli or his radicalization.
Fazeli first came to the United States in 2005 with his infant daughter, who needed surgery for a rare pancreatic disorder. His brother, Jabbar Fazeli, a doctor in Portland, organized the trip to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia and helped raise funds to pay for the surgery, which doctors in Iran didn’t have the expertise to perform. Adnan Fazeli, his wife and daughter returned to Iran after the surgery.
Three years later, Adnan Fazeli fled Iran after receiving a summons indicating he was going to be arrested for being a dissident, an FBI affidavit said. He first fled to Syria and then Lebanon before applying to the U.S. for refugee status.
According to his brother, Fazeli moved to the United States in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. He first settled in Philadelphia but came to Maine the next year, even though his brother asked him not to. Unlike his brother, Adnan Fazeli did not adjust well to life in America.
Adnan converted to Wahhabism, an austere movement of the Sunni branch of Islam. In Maine, he grew a beard, began to speak ill of the U.S. and watched hours of Islamic videos, the affidavit said. In 2013, Fazeli told his family he was going to Dubai to see his father. He did not return. His family learned he had been killed in Lebanon in 2015 while fighting with ISIS.
Family members had become concerned, and Jabbar Fazeli called the FBI to report his brother’s troubling transformation. He was worried that the radical views that took hold of his brother would appeal to other Muslims in the Portland area. No charges were filed as a result of the FBI investigation.
“To reach a point where you have to call the government to report your own brother, that’s the responsibility that’s thrown at people like us,” Jabbar Fazeli told the Bangor Daily News.
Fazeli’s story is troubling, but it does not suggest there is a widespread danger of Muslim radicalization in Maine. It should not be used to demonize and target new Americans or to close our borders on a group of people seeking to escape violence and persecution.