Sunday, July 9, 2017

Death of a Muslim Recruit reveals a Culture of Brutality in the Marines

It was late at night on March 7, 2016, when Ghazala Siddiqui heard the phone ring and hurriedly reached for it, eager to hear the voice of her son. An indecipherable torrent of words spewed from the breathless caller.
‘‘This is recruit Siddiqui. I have arrived safely
at Parris Island. Please do not send any food or
bulky items to me in the mail. I will contact you
in 7 to 9 days by letter with my new address.
Thank you for your support.
Good bye for now.’’
‘‘Raheel?’’ she said. The phone was dead. The call lasted less than five seconds. In her darkened living room in Taylor, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, Ghazala worried. The previous morning, Raheel, a 20-year-old Marine Corps recruit, left for boot camp on Parris Island, S.C. He had promised to call his parents when he arrived, and Ghazala and her husband, Masood, had been waiting by the phone. But the call, when it came, was strange, with an almost deafening noise in the background. Ghazala couldn’t be sure it was even him. In the morning, she phoned Raheel’s recruiter. ‘‘No one knows my son’s voice better than me,’’ she said. ‘‘That didn’t sound like my son.’’
The Siddiquis, who emigrated from Pakistan in the 1990s, hadn’t wanted their precious oldest child, and only boy, to join the Marines. Slender and unathletic, Raheel had always seemed most content designing video games on his computer. He graduated ninth in the class of 2014 from Taylor’s Harry S. Truman High School, a valedictorian with his pick of colleges, including a full academic scholarship to Michigan State. After months of deliberation, he decided on the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus, where he enrolled in September 2014, lured by its new program in robotics engineering. But the following July, after his freshman year, Raheel drastically changed course, announcing to his family that he had decided to leave college and enlist in the Marines.
Ghazala didn’t understand. ‘‘You’re smart, you’re intelligent — why?’’ she pleaded with him. Raheel tried to placate her. It was a ‘‘golden opportunity,’’ he told his parents. ‘‘After three years in the Marine Corps, I can do anything.’’
Over the next eight months, Raheel prepared for the rigors of boot camp, installing a pull-up bar in the basement, drinking protein shakes, lifting weights, learning to swim. He told his parents he would still try to follow Muslim dietary laws and stay away from anything haram. ‘‘It’s going to be good, Mom,’’ he told her, before saying goodbye on March 6. ‘‘Don’t worry. I’m ready.’’
That call was the last time she heard her son’s voice.
Raheel Siddiqui was born and raised about 20 miles southwest of Detroit, in the vast suburban-industrial wasteland known as Downriver. There are three military recruiting stations in the area, once a hub of auto manufacturing which is now, like much of the Rust Belt, a region of Best Buys, Taco Bells and Walmarts. Taylor, a city of some 61,000 people, is both the largest and one of the poorest of the Downriver communities: a pocket of mostly white and African-American residents, nearly a quarter of whom live below the poverty line.
Raheel was raised in public housing and spent his high school years intent on escaping his shabby hometown. ‘‘He always wanted challenges,’’ says Jerry Abraham, a former guidance counselor at Truman High whom Raheel frequently enlisted to help him find the hardest classes. In pursuit of a perfect G.P.A., Raheel had virtually no social life, though he had a na├»ve optimism unusual for a teenager. ‘‘He saw the world as nothing but a wonderful place,’’ says Karey Lee, Raheel’s supervisor at a nearby Home Depot, where he worked part time on the customer-service desk. ‘‘I don’t think he knew that hatefulness existed, to be honest.’’
To read the rest of the New York Times story, click here.

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