Army intelligence agents inquire about UT Islam conference

"We certainly hope that the Army doesn't believe that attending a conference on Islamic law or Islam and women is itself ground for investigation,"
UT constitutional law professor Douglas Laycock

News 8 Austin
Thursday, February 12, 2004
By Eric Allen

   The U.S. Army sent intelligence agents to investigate a conference about women and Islam at the UT School of Law. 

UT law student and organizer Sahar Aziz was shocked at the Army's interest and methods. 

"It was not a terrorism related conference. It was very benign The reason why we put it together is there had been a lot of debate on campus about these issues due to the burka [face-covering mask worn by Muslim women] in Afghanistan and Iraq," she said. 

A few days later, two U.S. Army intelligence agents showed up and wanted a list of all the people who attended the conference. 

They approached Jessica Biddle, who helped Aziz get funding for the event. 

"[I said] that he was intimidating me and is there a problem? His response was 'no, no problem, we're investigating a couple of people who attended the conference and we need to see the list,'" Biddle said.

Aziz said there was not a list of people in attendance. 

The U.S. Army has confirmed that the investigating agents are assigned to the Intelligence and Security Command based in Virginia. 

One agent left his business card with several students. 

But the idea that a conference on women and Islam would garner such attention is troubling to both Aziz and civil rights advocates. 

"We ought to be able to speak freely without worrying about government intimidation or the government spying on us," Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project said. 

UT law professors also say the Army could be walking a fine line with regard to civil rights. 

"We certainly hope that the Army doesn't believe that attending a conference on Islamic law or Islam and women is itself ground for investigation," UT constitutional law professor Douglas Laycock said. 

Aziz said the Army's visit was a scary indication of attitudes towards Islam. 

"It's confirming a lot of people in the Muslim community's fears that anything we do related to our religion, no matter how secular it may be, or religious which is perfectly legitimate, that we will be under surveillance that we are we are guilty by association," Aziz said. 

Harrington and the Texas Civil Rights Project will publicly denounce the Army's investigation Friday.

 

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