When it comes to tests of character, Gov. Paul LePage rarely makes the grade.
It’s nothing new for the governor to use race and fear to divide Maine. Like his juiced-up doppelganger Donald Trump, he’s perfectly fine with inciting violence, threatening illegal detention, abusing his authority to punish political opponents and misleading the public to gain political advantage.
It’s been a hallmark of his administration.
In the latest turn, news from federal court papers identified an Iranian refugee who had lived in a time in Maine who self-radicalized and was killed fighting for the Islamic State in Lebanon.
The governor was quick to jump on the attack: Blaming President Obama, immigrants and – wait for it because you know it’s coming – welfare.
So anxious to exploit this horror, the governor or someone from his administration appears to have broken federal law by leaking private and personal information about the Iranian to the Boston Herald.
According to the Herald, an unnamed source within Maine government told them that in addition to fighting and dying in service to a terrorist organization, Adnan Fazeli had received food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Disclosing the information is against the law.
Whether it’s illegitimate vetoes, secret public meetings, ignoring the state’s public records law or disclosing personal information, LePage and his administration have been troubled with the niceties of obeying pesky laws that they don’t like.
In contrast with LePage, there’s Jabbar Fazeli.
Jabbar is Adnan’s brother. He’s one of the members of the Fazeli family who contacted the FBI to warn them about his brother’s radicalization. But for his courage, we might never have known what had happen.
In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Jabbar told the story of the gut-wrenching decision he faced when he figured out that his brother posed a potential risk to the United States.
“My interest then was really public safety. If he was being recruited here, I didn’t want anyone else to be recruited,” Jabbar told the BDN.
“All along, I’m thinking the information I gave, he might get killed because of that information.”
It’s hard for me to imagine such a terrible circumstance, to believe that the information that you provided could end the life of your brother, even if he has changed beyond recognition.
“But that’s the nature of the situation with terrorism. People forget that the frontline is not the FBI, it’s not the military. We’re the frontline. It’s the family, the brothers, the mothers. To reach a point where you have to call the government, you know that’s the responsibility that’s thrown at people like us,” Jabbar said.
In response to this terrible circumstance, LePage has gleefully announced that his administration is reviewing all the cases of immigrants who receive some sort of assistance from the state.
It’s a witchhunt of the highest order, and demonstrates how quickly this governor is willing to throw the rule of law out the window in the pursuit of cheap political points.
While it’s easy for “straight talkers” to talk tough about terrorism and immigrants, it’s people like Jabbar who are our best defense, and they are the evidence that painting with such broad generalizations about immigration and terrorism risks making our country less safe.
It’s shocking to think that Adnan Fazeli became radicalized during his time in Maine. It’s scary, too. But we can’t allow that to become an excuse to turn loyal and committed US citizens into pariahs because of the color of their skin or the religion that they follow.
In his interview, Jabbar talked about his hope to recover the body of his brother and to bury him closer to their mother.
“She wants to pray for him so that he’ll be forgiven,” Jabbar said. “Hopefully the god he meets is different than the god they tell us they have and there will be some mercy.”
Through all that he has seen and done, it is Jabbar’s humanity that comes through in that sentiment — an act to ease the suffering of his mother, a prayer for mercy for someone even though they have done something very wrong.
“Character is tested when you’re thrown up against it,” Jabbar said.
We are all lucky that Jabbar passed the test. It’s too bad our governor can’t say the same.