Taking Back Our Children: What the Chesser Custody Case Says About Faith and Parenting in Islamophobic America
Wednesday, 14 November 2012 00:00 By Aviva Stahl, Truthout | Op-Ed
I spent one year with my baby before he was taken away. It is the most difficult thing that happened to me Alhamdulillah (Praise to God). I am grateful to Allah for allowing me to spend that little time with my son." - Proscovia Nzabanita
This past January, in a case of overt Islamophobia, Proscovia Nzabanita was stripped of all guardianship rights over her son, whom she calls "H" to protect his privacy. Full legal custody rights were granted to H's paternal grandmother, against the explicit wishes of both biological parents. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Prince William County even ruled that no adult was permitted to bring H to mosque, essentially ordaining that he must be raised Christian. The custody case is being reheard in mid-November in the Circuit Court of Prince William County.
A family torn apart
Proscovia Nzambanita and Zachary Chesser, both converts to Islam, married in 2009. Zachary has been behind bars since 2010, after pleading guilty to charges of providing material support to terrorists, and communicating threats and soliciting crimes of violence. (He was accused of posting threats online against the creators of "South Park" after an episode depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit). Proscovia, a Ugandan national, agreed to leave the United States after pleading guilty to making false statements to federal authorities about her husband's whereabouts. Instead of returning to Uganda, where she feared she might be tortured, Proscovia went to Jordan. After signing an agreement that H would be returned to her as soon as she was safely settled, Proscovia left him in the care of her family.
In the interim, however, Zachary's mother, Barbara Chesser, filed for temporary custody and won. The court later vacated the order, but the precedent left Proscovia's family in a considerably weaker position for the formal custody hearing this past January.
"Absolutely, unequivocally legally unfit as parents"
At the hearing in January, with Proscovia abroad and Zachary behind bars, neither parent could be physically present. The court ruled that both Zachary and Proscovia were "both absolutely, unequivocally legally unfit as parents." While the judge's decision with respect to Zachary might be reasonable, considering his long prison sentence, his ruling with regards to Proscovia is very worrying, given that not a single witness testified about Proscovia's actual ability to parent. In an exclusive interview with CagePrisoners, a London-based human rights organization, Proscovia explained, "None of them [lawyers representing the government or social workers] tried contacting me [about the custody case]. None of them attempted to evaluate my ability to parent until after you sent me these questions."
Since the court did not hear any testimony about Proscovia's ability to parent - and since her only criminal offense is the perjury charge included under her plea bargain - it appears the judge made his decision on other grounds. Quite simply, the judge's decision seems to reflect a belief that Proscovia is "too Muslim" to retain custody of her own child.
please read on