News Articles

The View from Here (column) by Carl Strock

Schenectady Daily Gazette, published March 10, 2008

Aref book reveals life of travail

Incredibly, Yassin Aref has written a book, and in English, no less.

I say incredibly because he wrote it in the Rensselaer County Jail when I would have been a quivering wreck, unable to string three words together in my own language, much less in someone else's.

Aref, you will recall, was one of two Albany Muslims who were set up by the FBI a few years ago, then convicted of supporting terrorism and are now serving 15-year sentences in federal prison.

He wrote the book while waiting to be tried, not knowing if he would be cleared, or sent to prison for the rest of his life, or something in between.

The book is his life story, from his childhood as a Kurd in the hardscrabble mountains of northern Iraq, to his early married life in Syria, to his coming to America as a United Nations refugee with his wife and children. And a very compelling story it is, only tangentially about the elaborate trick the FBI played on him and the catastrophe that resulted.

The title is "Son of Mountains: My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect." It is privately published by The Troy Book Makers and sells for $27, which is not cheap, but the proceeds, after expenses, will go to Aref's stateless wife and four children in Albany, if that helps.

It is available at the Open Door bookstore in Schenectady and several other bookstores in the Capital Region, or it can be ordered online through

It will be officially introduced today at a press conference at the storefront mosque in Albany, 278 Central Ave., where Aref served as prayer leader before being arrested, but I'm giving you a heads-up, having received an advance copy.

His life before the catastrophe that befell him is one that I can hardly imagine, even though I have spent my share of time in Third World countries.

For him and for Kurds in general, I gather, it was not just the physical hardship of barren mountains and primitive villages, mud huts and frigid winters without heat that defined life, it was also the terror and oppression of Saddam Hussein's armed forces, which included the now-infamous poison-gassing of Halabja and Anfal.

And further yet it was the brutality and meanness of the Kurds' own patriarchal culture, with its beating and silencing of children and its virtual enslavement of women.

It's a nice irony that this young man with no experience of the outside world rejoiced when he landed in America because he figured he would be able to give his children the freedom and joy that he himself never experienced as a child.

After five years of living peacefully in Albany, at first making his living as a lowly janitor at a hospital, he was manipulated at great public expense and effort so that the local FBI office and U.S. attorney's office, as I see it, could make their bones in the War on Terror .

He no more supported terrorism than I do, and now he sits in the Managed Communications Unit of Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana with other foreign-born Muslims, considered too dangerous to have physical contact with the same children whose freedom he cherished. I wish more people could appreciate the foulness of it.

He had help with English grammar and spelling, but the rough original of the book -- I saw some chapters as it progressed -- was every bit as moving as the final version. You can read it just for the feel of another life.

Carl Strock can be reached at 395-3085 or by e-mail at

March 9, 2008

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