NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In his State of the City Address last night, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson came to tears recounting the success of the Anaya family. The two parents were illegal immigrants who came to the United States from Mexico in the eighties. They subsequently became U.S. citizens and will this June celebrate as their daughter graduates as the 2017 Salutatorian of New Rochelle High School.
The Mayor went on to cite numerous other immigrant success stories, people with close New Rochelle connections, all as part of a stated rebuke of President Donald Trump and his supporters. Among those immigrants praised by the Mayor was New Rochelle resident Farooq Kathwari, the Chairman of Danbury, CT-based Ethan Allen.
In Kathwari’s case, he skipped any reference to the furniture tycoon’s children. Perhaps for good reason.
Bramson failed to mention that Irfan (or Imran) Kathwari, Farooq Kathwari’s son, born and raised in the United States, was radicalized in the early nineties, then dropped out of Harvard Medical School to wage jihad in Afghanistan. According to various accounts he was radicalized at a local mosque, went to Pakistan and joined up with a group of students who had joined the jihad. He was then, depending on which story you believe, killed in a freak accident in Afghanistan, shot while engaging Indian troops in the Kashmir region, killed by the CIA, or blown up while fighting the Russians in Chechnya. All reports indicate some version of his signing on with local jihadi groups, some members of whom formed early incarnations of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
While there is some dispute among family members as to how Irfan died, there is no disputing that he left the United States where he was born and raised to become a Mujahideen, a member of guerrilla type military outfits led by Muslim Afghan Holy Warriors in the Soviet–Afghan War.
Five weeks after the 9-11 Terror Attacks, BusinessWeek (now Bloomberg) ran a profile piece on Farooq Kathwari that referenced Irfan’s death while fighting with the Mujahideen.
“[Kathwari’s] eldest son was killed in Afghanistan in 1992: Imran, a 19-year-old college student born and raised in America, was drawn there by romantic notions of the fight against the Russians (and by that time, the regime they backed), says Kathwari. Imran went despite the family's opposition. He died in a mortar attack, in one of the last battles for the capital, Kabul.
"My son is lying in rubble in Afghanistan," Kathwari says.”
Rafiq Kathwari, Farooq brother wrote an article with a different account of Irfan's death, My Nephew the Freedom Fighter:
Irfan spent his waking hours that summer at the local mosque, sometimes returning home late at night... Iraq invaded Kuwait in August, and a few months later when smart bombs fell in Baghdad, Irfan wanted to enroll at King Faisal U in Islamabad..." A few weeks later, Irfan wrote that he and a handful of his new classmates had crossed the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in a Toyota pick up several times without being stopped. A photo shows him wearing the long shirt, the kameez, and loose pants, the shalwar; he is stroking his curly beard. There is no Kalashnikov on his shoulder. "Love of Allah," he wrote in another letter, "is the only love I have ever known." On one such trip, Allah's foot soldier seemingly cast the first stone. The enemy released an arc across the sky. In their backyard in America, his mom was pruning roses under a gunmetal sky, the day the call came. My nephew is buried in a mass grave in the desolation of Afghanistan. My brother and sister-in-law, who believe that their son was killed in a freak accident fighting the Soviets, are, of course, entitled to find solace in any idea that helps them come to terms with their sorrow...
Another account places Irfan Kathwari in Kashmir, fighting the Indian Army, as part of the Kashmiri separatist movement, in a battle of Hindu v. Muslim:
On an excursion in Kashmir his group saw an Indian military truck and decided to engage it by opening fire. The Indian soldiers returned fire and a shell fragment from a grenade severed an artery causing him to bleed to death. His comrades left his body on the scene for the Indian soldiers to find, where upon they found documents revealing his identity. American Embassy was informed which arranged his body to be send back to Connecticut.
Still another account places Irfan Kathwari in Chechnya:
The interviewer refers to Imran Kathwari's death while fighting Jihad in Chechyna as his having been the youthful pursuit of a 'romantic notion' and glosses over the death without questioning what could have motivated the son of one of America's wealthiest business tycoons, from an 'assimilated' Muslim background, to become a Muhajideen fighter in Afghanistan.
Bramson singled out Farooq Kathwari for praise towards the end of his State of the City Address:
There is no company more iconically American company than Ethan Allen. It has defined the style of the American home for generations. Whether we own Ethan Allen furniture or not, just about all of us have heard of the company, but what many people in New Rochelle may not realize is that the leader of Ethan Allen is one of our own.
Farooq Kathwari, would you please stand.
For almost 30 years, Farooq has been Ethan Allen’s Chairman, recognized as one of the 50 best CEOs in America. But leadership in business in only one part of Farooq’s extraordinary life achievements. Acting on a deep personal commitment to human rights, Farooq has served as the co-chair of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a member of the Board of Overseers of the International Rescue Committee, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the International Advisory Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And if I listed all of his positions and accolades, we would be here until tomorrow morning. It’s a shame he never amounted to anything.
Few, if any, New Rochelle residents, have made so large a mark in both the public and private sectors, here in our country or around the world.
Yet as a child, Farooq could probably not have imagined his home of many years in the Forest Heights neighborhood or his home today along the New Rochelle waterfront. He was born in Kashmir, spent much of his childhood in Pakistan, and came to the United States as a political refugee. How diminished our community would be without his journey of faith and courage, and without the opportunities our nation extended in return.
Thank you, Farooq.
Bramson went on to close his speech by referencing the various immigrants he had mentioned earlier, including Farooq Kathwari:
These remarkable men and women – from Montenegro, from Mexico, from Kashmir and Pakistan, from Ireland, from Namibia and Finland, from Transylvania – are not visitors to New Rochelle. They are not guests in New Rochelle. They are New Rochelle. They are the best of New Rochelle. They are what makes New Rochelle great. They are what makes America great.” said Bramson.
Information about Irfan Kathwari's radicalization in the United States, his embrace of jihad and violent death fighting with the Mujahideen is readily available online including a prominent article on Bloomberg.com. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that in researching Farooq Kathwari for his speech, the Mayor would not have been aware of the sharp contrast between the assimilation and success of the Anaya family and the isolation and radizalation of Farooq Kathwari's son which led to his death as a foreign jihadi fighter.
To choose to highlight the Kathwari family as a counterpoint to Trump's concerns about the infiltration of radical islam ideology in the United States is strikingly odd and out of character for a Mayor noted for his deliberate approach towards political theater.
Mayor Noam Bramson did not respond to repeated emails seeking comment.