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Peace, Justice and Censorship?

By May Habib, Suvrat Raju, and Alexandra B. Vanier, MAY HABIB AND SUVRAT RAJU AND ALEXANDRA B. VANIERs

This past Monday, the Society of Arab Students (SAS), the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice (HIPJ) and the Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH) sponsored a speech and presentation by Amer Jubran, a pro-Palestinian activist whose final deportation trial was held yesterday in Boston.

Jubran, who has been in the U.S. on and off since 1986, was invited to speak at Harvard to discuss the serious infringements on civil rights in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

His invitation, which sought to begin a dialogue on human rights, was met with accusations of supporting terror, charges of anti-Semitism and a frightening amount of harassing e-mails from campus opponents.

The dozen students who protested Jubran’s speech had every right to do so, but they should remember that Edmund Burke, whose words they invoked as an inspiration for their demonstration, also wisely said, “Where mystery begins, justice ends.” Jubran’s case typifies the civil rights abuses inflicted on immigrants under the Bush administration.

Last November, only two days after he had led a march for Palestinian rights in Boston, Jubran was detained by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) and held without bail for 17days. The BICE told Jubran’s lawyer that he would be held “indefinitely” and did not provide reasons for his arrest or detention or the charges that were brought against him.

The actions of the federal government go beyond infringement of Jubran’s civil liberties to a tampering of due process and an attempt to influence the outcome of his repeatedly postponed hearing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allegedly intimidated members of Jubran’s key witness pool. After a grueling 9-hour interrogation by the FBI, Jubran’s sister-in-law subsequently declined to testify in his defense, according to Jubran’s legal filings. Jubran claims that his ex-wife was also interrogated by the FBI and told falsely that he had a hand in planning the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some on campus have challenged our decision to highlight Jubran’s case of denied civil liberties among the many cases that exist. But his case is a particularly strong example because Jubran’s legal representatives were able to obtain 12 surveillance tapes and numerous documents that suggest he was being targeted because of his political views rather than because of any clear and present danger. The footage obtained showed that Jubran and other activists participating in local pro-Palestinian and anti-war rallies were being systematically followed as far back as 2001. We highlighted Jubran’s case because his circumstances are emblematic of this concerted intimidation of immigrants, especially of Arab descent, and of Palestinian activists.

The tapes that Jubran showed to the audience at the Science Center on Monday are grim reminders of the intrusive powers granted to various U.S. security agencies by the Patriot Act, such as the ability to invade the privacy of citizens whose only crime is the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Because of the Patriot Act, the FBI can now access medical, school and library records of any U.S. resident without a warrant. Perhaps even more chilling, the FBI can prevent the subject of an inquiry from discovering that his or her records were searched.

Our campus organizations strongly believe in the traditions of freedom, liberty and free speech. When the FBI intimidates potential witnesses, federal prosecutors unfairly prolong trials and the police red-flag certain citizens because of their political activism, the United States of America begins to look less like the home of freedom and more like a police state. We have a duty to ensure that students at Harvard understand what is happening to civil liberties in America.

It is true that Jubran has voiced rather harsh criticisms of both the U.S. and Israel. He has refused to condemn suicide bombings because he believes that this violence is a direct result of Israel’s brutal policies for the past 50 years. He also believes that the only way to end the violence is to adopt a binational solution—with one unified democratic state.

One may agree or disagree with his views—and members of SAS and HIPJ have a range of views about the conflict. This should not detract from the main issue: an Arab immigrant and pro-Palestinian peace activist is being targeted because he dared to raise his voice in this country.

Vociferous argumentation on both sides of this issue is nothing alien to this campus. For example, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky—who believes in filling the West Bank with Jewish settlements on Palestinian land—was invited to speak at Hillel in September. Arthur Hertzberg, a prominent rabbi and critic of Ariel Sharon, described Sharansky as wanting to “drive the Arabs into cantons.”

Reconciliation between campus groups on opposite sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict is crucial if we are to come to an understanding. However, ignoring injustice in the U.S. and sitting back while the current American administration chips away at our civil liberties is not the way to achieve the mutual understanding that can lead to peace.

Jubran’s trial ended yesterday with Jubran accepting voluntary deportation to Jordan. Amer Jubran will never be at the head of another rally shouting his enthusiastic pro-peace slogans; but more distressingly, it is the autocratic measures of a land which purports to cherish free speech that have led to his tragic silencing.

May Habib ’07, who lives in Grays Hall, is a member of the Society of Arab Students. Suvrat Raju, a second-year graduate student in the physics department, and Alexandra B. Vanier ’03-’05, a folklore and mythology concentrator in Lowell House, are members of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice.

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