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News ::
FBI 'interviews' Iraqi professor at UMass Amherst (english)
28 Nov 2002
Modified: 26 Nov 2003
On Oct. 24 Mr. M.J. Alhabeeb an Iraqi professor at UMass Amherst was "interviewed" by the FBI. This attack is but one of hundreds that have occurred on campuses after Sept. 11. But a nationwide fightback is growing to protest the increasing racist profiling and blatant attacks on academic freedom by the government under the guise of "fighting terrorism."
FBI 'interviews' Iraqi professor at UMass Amherst
Professors, students and community mount fightback campaign
By Bryan G. Pfeifer

The USA Patriot Act and "Homeland Security" have found a home at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

On Oct. 24 M.J. Alhabeeb, Associate Professor at the Department of Resource Economics and a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iraq, was questioned by UMass police detective Barry Flanders and an FBI agent from the Joint Terrorism Taskforce office in Springfield, Mass. This occurred after the Boston FBI office supposedly received a "tip" that Alhabeeb was "anti-American" and opposed to U.S. policy towards Iraq. Flanders, whose pay comes from the university, has been assigned as a "liaison" to the task force working two days a week in Springfield.

"Interviewing" Alhabeeb in his office, the officers told him the "tip" came from someone linked to Amherst Community Television (ACTV) where Alhabeeb is on the board of directors. If in fact this is true, Alhabeeb surmises that the informant may be someone disgruntled with his voting record on budget cuts at the station which he opposed.

Alhabeeb told this writer since arriving in the U.S. in 1982 from Iraq he has never publicly aired his political views and that conversations at ACTV were "all internal, budgetary and administrative talk. I can't recall once that I talked politics at ACTV." Alhabeeb initially asked his name not be used for safety reasons-he has a wife and two children-but three local newspapers used his name in articles and the UMass Amherst Daily Collegian published his picture on the front page.

Although the UMass police department and the FBI claim Alhabeeb was "interviewed" based on the ACTV "tip," a cursory glance at Alhabeeb's career and non-teaching posts and activities which he willingly told this writer about, lead one to believe more was happening here.

Besides being on ACTV's board of directors, Alhabeeb is a former executive board member of the Massachusetts Society of Professionals, the UMass faculty union and is one of a few original Arabic calligraphers in the West. In fact, four days after he was interviewed, Alhabeeb's art exhibition "Islamic Art: Peace & Beauty, Islamic Calligraphy by M.J. Alhabeeb," began a month-long run in the Augusta Savage Gallery housed in the New Africa house where the Afro American studies department is located. Furthermore the "interviewing" of Alhabeeb is at a time when the Bush administration has stepped up attacks on Iraqi's nationwide according to the Nov. 17 New York Times.

The attack on Alhabeeb was first learned about on campus the week of Nov. 10 when long-time UMass sociology professor Dan Clawson circulated an email after Alhabeeb told him about the "interview."

Calling for a meeting on Nov. 18 to address the issue Clawson said, "We need to organize to stop FBI interrogation of UMass faculty (or students or staff), and UMass cooperation with and assistance to that process."

"Police and FBI investigation of those with dissenting views threatens the integrity of the university…," added Clawson. "In an all -too-typical pattern, such investigations are targeted first at people of the 'wrong' race or ethnicity."

At the Nov. 18 meeting over 75 faculty, staff and students packed a meeting room in Machmer Hall and agreed to draft a statement opposing "investigations" on campus to be signed by groups and individuals on and off campus, organize a public forum on freedom of speech and civil liberties, request a meeting with Chancellor John Lombardi, compile information on FBI activity in the area and engage in various actions to expose "investigations" including preparing resources for academics and community members who may face questioning.

Alhabeeb has not been the only one under attack. At the meeting Sri Lankan-born Yaju Dharmarajah, an organizer with SEIU Local 509 on campus, said his wife was "visited" at their home in Hadley, MA by Hadley police and an FBI agent from UMass in September while Dharmarajah was out of town. "They wanted to know if we were terrorists," said Dharmarajah. He said they asked his wife about his activities, his memberships in various groups and his political views.

By speaking out Dharmarajah showed great courage because under the Patriot Act he could be detained indefinitely as a foreign national. "It is very scary to be put in that situation, especially when your husband is not a citizen yet," said Pilar Schiavo, Dharmarajah's wife, in an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Emeritus English professor Jules Chametzky, who attended the meeting, was "interviewed" himself by the FBI in the 1950s over an accusation he had been a member of the Communist Party during his graduate study at the University of Minnesota. "I thought that was the end of my career. It was very dangerous, very scary." Eventually allowed to continue his career, Chametzky said, "The danger now is that they are profiling people from the Middle East."

Due to the racist and terrorist climate ushered in after Sept. 11 by the Bush administration, hundreds, if not thousands, of faculty, staff and students have been "interviewed" by the FBI and other U.S. agencies, claims the American Association of University Professors on its website. The AAUP's "Committee on Academic freedom in a Time of Crisis" convened shortly after Sept. 11, investigates harassment of scholars and disruptions of academic freedom. Many of those under attack have been afraid to come out for fear of retaliation, damage and/or loss of their careers and harm to their families thus real numbers are difficult to compile says AAUP.

The fightback campaign being waged at UMass Amherst against racist state repression is only one of hundreds at higher education institutions nationwide and the movement is growing. More and more people are realizing that on and off campus the Bush administration is waging an all-out war against any and all opposition and especially against Arabs, Muslims, South Asians and other oppressed nationalities.

Referring to Alhabeeb, Robert P. Wolfe, professor of Afro American Studies, summed up the growing nationwide mood at the Nov. 18 meeting.

"This was outrageous, because this man has not spoken out against the war. This is the time to speak out very powerfully."

-- END --

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1 comment and some questions (english)
01 Dec 2002
This is mega scary.

I don't think it's any coincidence that another man (from Sri Lanka)
"interviewed" by the FBI is an SEIU organizer. The FBI sure knows
how to link its struggles: union organizers, academics, and
activists are all terrorists. It's up to us to link our struggles
and show solidarity between labor, Iraqis, Palestinians, indigenous,
oppressed, and exploited people everywhere.

Here are my questions. Other press coverage was mentioned.
Would it be possible to have copies of those articles
either linked or added as comments from this page?


Comments: who cares (english)
05 Dec 2002

I have no idea what is the point of this article, enlighten me , what is it ??
Racial profiling is bad ??

Why is this not made clear....I am lost..

Pathetic (english)
10 Dec 2002
The pathetic and unfounded biases against FBI in this article is one of the many reasons that people don't take indymedia seriously.

This is a powerful venue, and an excellent opportunity to display under reported stories. FBI=bad is not a story.

try harder.
Place the blame where it belongs (english)
15 Jan 2003
"Due to the racist and terrorist climate ushered in after Sept. 11 by the Bush administration..."

Let me stop you right there! The ones who ushered in the racist and terrorist cliamte were al Queda and their supporters in the Middle East. Stop blaming America for everything.

As soon as reasonable people read a statement like yours, their "moron alert" goes off and they write you off as a complete liar and weirdo.
one people; one nation (english)
26 Nov 2003
UMASS-AMherst has always been a progressive campus and am surprised at the amount of cooperation that the university administration extended to the FBI agent. Civil rights is a never-ending battle, it seems, but to give in to it would be to secede to a fascism that I'm certain none of us want to revert to.

The experience with professor Alhabeeb could be one experienced by any middle eastern international scholar/studnet/academic anywhere. it won't stop there if people do not protest the vitriolic exercise by our government to select individuals (american citizens, no less)for questioning. Who's next, canadians?

(See CBC for gross violation of human rights against CAnadians. One is a Sri-Lankan born Canadian, another a White canadian running a counter-terrorism school).