Amitava Kumar in Open:
What do you do if a young man who was a student in your class is thrown in prison on a terrorism charge?
Jeanne Theoharis teaches Political Science at Brooklyn College. In June 2006, when British authorities detained 29-year-old Syed Fahad Hashmi at Heathrow Airport, she remembered the youth from her class several years ago. Back in 2002, in the days following the 11 September attacks, Hashmi had been a student in Professor Theoharis’s class on race. He was articulate and very critical of the ways in which the civil rights of US citizens, especially Muslims, had been curtailed by the Bush Administration.
When Theoharis heard that Hashmi had been arrested by the British police because there was a warrant out for him in the US, she was struck by the irony of it all. A part of her former student’s thesis had been about the government’s surveillance and harassment of four or five Muslim groups in the US. Now, he was himself behind bars on suspicion of having aided and abetted terrorism. Less than a year later, when Hashmi was extradited to the US, the FBI revealed that the detainee had supplied ‘military gear’ to people who had delivered these materials to Al-Qaida members in Pakistan. Then, Hashmi’s lawyer found out that the items being labelled as ‘military gear’ were socks and rainproof ponchos. The rest of the details of the indictment remain shrouded in mystery. The FBI has revealed nothing more.
I met Theoharis recently for lunch in a restaurant in New York’s West Village.