BY SARAH MIRK
When Arthur Gotcho Cupp changed his name to Freedom Allah Siyam back in 1998, he had no idea that one day his identity would bring the FBI knocking on his front door. After years of working as a vocal antiglobalization activist in the Seattle Filipino community, Siyam recently discovered that he's on a government watch list as a suspected terrorist—on October 4, agents showed up at his house bearing a page-long list of names and began questioning his 56-year-old mother. Siyam, his lawyer, and the rest of the Seattle Filipino activist community are afraid they're about to be sucked into a giant, spiraling investigation that's an eerie repeat of the widespread government scrutiny of Arab Americans after September 11.
Siyam, 29, has a shaved head, thick eyebrows, and Filipino parents. When he was 21, he changed his name. "Of course people automatically assume or associate Allah with Islam, but Allah is Arabic... I want keep God central to my goals and aspirations," explains Siyam, who is not Muslim. "Siyam means nine and I was into numerology at the time, it's the period of gestation for a child. And Freedom because I hope to see freedom for people on the planet, as well as for myself." He's a spoken-word artist with friends in the hiphop community like Blue Scholars, and has a day job as a social-history teacher for public-school dropouts. His real passion, though, is activism, serving as the regional coordinator for BAYAN-USA, a lefty Filipino-American organization that coordinates race-and-politics workshops for college students. "A lot of the work we do is based on an anti-imperialist, antiglobalization viewpoint," says Siyam, who also sometimes leads a handful of students on trips to the Philippines. In fact, Siyam travels a lot between the U.S., Philippines, and Canada, which may have raised red flags within the Homeland Security information mines.
Listen to 91.3FM KBCS interview with Freedom about the FBI harassment: