Issues of War and Free Speech Roil GMU Campus

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 6, 2005

More than 100 George Mason University students and faculty members gathered on campus yesterday for a teach-in, six days after an undergraduate was arrested in a confrontation with military recruiters there.

Tariq Khan, 27, said he was standing near the recruiters' table in the multipurpose Johnson Center at lunchtime last Thursday, holding fliers and wearing signs, including one on his chest that read "Recruiters Lie, Don't Be Deceived." One of the recruiters, plus another man who said he was a Marine, began yelling at him, he said, adding that the Marine ripped off his sign. Khan said that after a campus police officer asked for identification, which he didn't have with him, he was arrested, taken to the Fairfax County police department and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Khan, a Pakistani American who grew up in Sterling and served four years in the U.S. Air Force, said the recruiters, and later the campus police, made disparaging comments to him about Middle Easterners.

Although he is not a practicing Muslim, he said, his father's family is. "A lot of Muslims are afraid to say anything against the war" because they are concerned they could be deported, he said. "I speak out for all Muslim people who can't speak out."

Khan said he was not breaking any rules that he knows of, and he added that in the past he has worn similar signs near the recruiting table without problems.

Michael F. Lynch, chief of the university police department, said the incident was being investigated. "We're looking into it, all the details and allegations, and will use all of that information and determine whether or not there are things we could do differently or better," he said.

Daniel Walsch, a university spokesman, said that Khan "was considered to be distributing literature," which requires a permit, and that he was asked to leave the building. "The police were concerned that he was creating a disturbance, so they asked him to leave," Walsch said, adding that when he didn't, he was considered to be trespassing.

Asked about comments police might have made, Walsch said, "We don't discriminate against anyone, and we won't tolerate if there is any case of discrimination against a group based on their race or background."

In an open letter this week, Provost Peter N. Stearns promised to review policies "to make sure they are compatible with freedom of speech" and to "work to identify those individuals responsible for any alleged violations."

Khan was released on his own recognizance and has a court date Nov. 14, he said.

The gathering yesterday was emotional at times, as students spoke of their own experiences with war.

"Tariq Khan spoke for students like me who have lost family members because of this war," said Ria Dellawar, a student from Afghanistan who said her brother disappeared there shortly after the war began. She began crying as she spoke.

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