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I Don't Think Terrorists Have Hollywood Agents
(It's hard enough to get one if you're a screenwriter with credits.)

zakscreenwriter2.jpg

Zak, on Saturday, plotting to take over Hollywood

I've known Zak, mostly in passing, for the better part of a decade, because he plunks away on his computer at many of the same So Cal coffee shops I do. I think we first met about seven years ago at the coffee shop near 11th and Montana -- I can't even remember the name now -- when he was in film school. I hadn't seen him for a while, and suddenly he reappeared at my Saturday haunt, and explained why. He'd been stuck in Britain, his re-entry to the USA postponed, as he was targeted as a potential security risk. Zak, a security risk? What for, explosive dialogue?

Zak tells his story in LA Weekly:

I had an entire life back in L.A. that I had put on hold. I had rent and medical insurance to pay, two cars to maintain, not to mention business meetings I’d had to cancel and an increasingly frustrated agent. Even my girlfriend, vehemently opposed to long-distance relationships, threatened to leave me.

My lawyer eventually figured out that my name appeared on a State Department watch list. He concluded the authorities may have mistaken me for a terrorist.

We found out that the man sentenced to death in Pakistan for abducting and helping to kill the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had a scarily similar profile to me: We shared the same name (Ahmed) and similarly spelled last name (Shaikh). He had attended the London School of Economics, where I was an undergraduate. Even spookier, he had attended Forest School, a rival high school to my own alma mater, Chigwell Boys.

It didn’t seem to matter that this guy had grown a beard, bought an AK-47 and joined the Kashmir Liberation Front, while I had gone to L.A. to purchase a Starbucks loyalty card and write movies. In the eyes of the U.S. authorities, it appeared, we might as well have been the same person.

Three months passed and I still had no word. Given that I’d attended USC film school, paid taxes to the U.S. government for years, and lived and breathed that all-American institution of Hollywood, I did ask the obvious question: “Why me?” Was it simply because of my British Muslim background?

Now, this guy has a screenplay in production -- an adaptation of the book Yardie, plus other Hollywood credits, and a Hollywood Foreign Press Association award for a screenplay he wrote in USC. Here's his bio from a short he produced:

Zak Shaikh graduated from USC's MFA Writing for Film and TV program. He is currently attached to produce the feature film 'Yardie', the screenplay of which he adapted from the best-selling novel. He has worked at Dreamworks Animation, and as an Assistant Producer on the HBO film 'Lackawanna Blues'. Zak hails from London where he was a journalist after graduating from the London School of Economics.

How much genius does it take to figure out he isn't Osama bin Screenwriter? I mean, don't these government agents have telephones, computers...Google? If this is the level of "intelligence" we've got working for us...well, it's a bit scary.

Posted by aalkon at April 1, 2007 12:40 PM

Comments

What happened to this guy sucks, but when attempting to gain the sympathy of the reader, it might be a good idea to leave out the part about how you couldn't go to meetings or maintain your two cars, and your agent was really pissed.

And all this stuff is bad until there's another 9/11. Then it's, "Why didn't they catch those guys?"

Posted by: Jim Treacher at April 1, 2007 12:08 AM

The guy's just getting started in screenwriting, but he's doing pretty well for that, although I don't think he's rolling in dough just yet. I used to have two cars -- one never moved, and the other barely moved!

Maybe if somebody had gotten on the phone and on Google they would have found the information they needed (in an hour or so) so they could've chased the guys running around with Kalashnikovs.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 1, 2007 12:14 AM

I agree, but that's just the nature of bureaucracy. It's not anything that's specific to the U.S. People are lazy and stupid.

As for his screenwriting career, I get the feeling this story will make up for whatever opportunities he missed out on.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at April 1, 2007 12:22 AM

Here's what anyone should expect from the government:

The speed of the Post Office.
The compassion of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The intelligence of Congress.

Maybe Zak would have had an easier time of it were he to start calling CAIR. Our government can't WAIT to bend over for real terrorists while fucking up the lives of people who aren't.

Posted by: brian at April 1, 2007 6:11 AM

OK, but if we're going to say this, let's KNOW it. "Intelligence" is useless and maybe worse (and to Hell with Plame & Wilson). We can't count on the government to protect us. People who understand this should be challenged next time they say adding government functionaries will make problems go away. It won't.

Posted by: Crid at April 1, 2007 6:44 AM

It's like flying -- the plane could crash, but it probably won't. Living in a free society targeted by terrorists means we could die -- but we probably won't. I'd be safer living in some small town in the midwest, but I'm not willing to do that. I live hard and dress up in case I die tomorrow. Best I can do.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 1, 2007 8:25 AM

It just goes to show you that the assortment of agencies still haven't learned a great deal from September 11, 2001. The Arabs that were rounded up just after the Pentagon and WTC attacks were based on overstayed Visas and similar names from the 19 A.Q. members. The original arrests were understandable, but 5 years later the same mistakes.

These terror groups are very easy to infiltrate and move up within their ranks. The various US agencies need to pull out some of their active agents. Pay them to learn Arabic and Islamic culture for a year or two. Then do some heavy infiltration of the various groups ala Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco style.

It also saddens me about Joe Wilson. He was a legend among the various ex pats in the Middle East. My drinking buddies and I would wear Baghdad 'neck ties' in his honor or just any reason to consume large amounts of alcohol in the M.E. Now he has become the typical Diplomatic Corps burn out.

Posted by: Joe at April 1, 2007 8:30 AM

A friend just e-mailed me:

The best part of Zak's story is that he only had to mention a TV show the immigration official liked and he was through. Ah, Hollywood. What kind of security system is that?? Meanwhile I've been hearing about someone called Catherine Stevens who keeps getting stopped and searched in airports because they think she is Cat Stevens. Clearly, secondary sexual characteristics mean nothing to these people.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 1, 2007 9:40 AM

These terror groups are very easy to infiltrate and move up within their ranks. The various US agencies need to pull out some of their active agents. Pay them to learn Arabic and Islamic culture for a year or two. Then do some heavy infiltration of the various groups ala Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco style.

You're absolutely right. Stopping credited screenwriters who've been living and working in Hollywood, and are easily documented as such, is ridiculous, and the energy put into this is better spent elsewhere.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 1, 2007 9:57 AM

An agent doesn't even have to show overt signs of joining a terror group. Just pretend you are an American who is curious or a serious student of Islam at the various community centers. Within 6 months to a year, the agent will be approached by someone to offer him an opportunity for 'serious' study of Islam. Or to get back to the real roots of Islam. This person is known as a 'shepherd' and 9 out of 10, he has an EU passport. That would be the beginning. Also, I would check out the various Islamic-Prison outreach programs within the USA.

Also, the Plame Affair did so much damage to the intelligence community. If there is an agent out in the field under deep undercover. He has to worry about the information being gathered doesn't conflict with the already established White House perspective on Islamic terrorism. Could there be an over eager functionary ready to drop this agent's name to the public for purely political gains?

The specifics of the Plame case do not matter. No matter who was guilty or their personal motivations. A name was revealed to the press.

Posted by: Joe at April 1, 2007 11:23 AM

There are the kind of things that happen when a bureaucracy becomes too entrenched. With no one available to be held accountable: incompetence becomes the default, "I'm just following the rules" becomes the mantra and even the most outrageous irrational acts become commonplace.

How does one slay a bureaucracy?


Posted by: RedPretzel in LA at April 1, 2007 11:49 AM

When did it become bourgeousié to own two cars in the USA? Rednecks on my dirt road have three, four, etc.

Identity theft is how easy?

I have to remind you all that bureaucracy is what you get when you don't insist that government employees can be fired. Out at SRS, we have an awful ot of people who are just there to get a paycheck.

Posted by: Radwaste at April 2, 2007 6:38 AM

He looks like a sweetie. If I weren't monogamous I'd totally date him!!!

Posted by: Melissa G at April 2, 2007 7:29 AM

You're getting soft on terrorism, Amy. Clearly he's taking on an online course in aviation in that photo.

I agree with Melissa. He's a total babe. If Zak's a terrorist, I'm ready for the attack. Bring it on.

Posted by: Lena at April 2, 2007 8:17 AM

Glad to see I'm not the only one whose first thought was "what a cutie!"

Posted by: deja pseu at April 2, 2007 2:08 PM

He looks like a sweetheart!

Posted by: Chrissy at April 3, 2007 1:25 PM

Interesting to read all the comments.
I just want to say that the reason I had two cars was that I was briefly married (for 6 months) and my ex left her car as she decided to return to England, with me footing the bill. I hadn't got around to selling it. But it was one of the first things I did when I returned to LA.

Posted by: Zak at April 4, 2007 12:00 AM

P.S. If you're hot, smart, and live in L.A., Zak is single, and I have his e-mail address.

--Your friendly neighborhood advice columnist

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 4, 2007 3:01 AM

Apologies for this has nothing to do with the serious debate on this site. I'm Zak's cousin and can vouch he is a sweetie....totally single so please do get in touch with Amy.
Is this a dating site? Can I add my details?!

Posted by: Aysha at April 4, 2007 7:12 AM

Um, does it look like a dating site? With debates on terrorism, femininism, and belief, without evidence, in god? I was just trying to be nice to Zak.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 4, 2007 7:37 AM

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