The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian poetry ‘bomber’ jolts US

Washington, April 26: “Recycling” poetry can have unpleasant consequences in the US, an Indian American professor in Pennsylvania has discovered in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech killings.

Kazim Ali, who teaches English literature at Shippensburg University, made the “careless” mistake of getting rid of poetry manuscripts by putting them up for recycling and paid a big price for it.

So did the 7,500 students of Shippensburg University, whose classes were cancelled for a day with emergency police and a bomb squad stepping in.

The bizarre incident typifies the paranoia that has gripped US universities following the Virginia Tech incident — the worst shooting spree in America.

It began when Ali, by his account, parked his car on a campus street, “grabbed a box of old poetry manuscripts from the front seat” and put the box near a recycling trash can.

“The poems were from poetry contests I had been judging,” according to Ali, also a poet who describes himself as Indian, although he was born in England. “I had previously left boxes there.”

But this time, a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a college-based officer commissioning programme, was watching the teacher.

The member called the police to inform them that a man of “middle-eastern descent” had placed a box and left.

Suspicions were further aroused because Ali’s car had stickers with black flowers, which are “not common”.

What is more, Ali still sported stickers on his car supporting George W. Bush’s Democratic opponent in the last election, which screamed “Kerry/Edwards: For a Stronger America”.

Soon the local and state police arrived, so did the bomb squad and the entire campus was shut down.

According to Ali, after a length of time, his “faculty colleagues were able to get me on a cellphone”. When Ali explained the situation, a police officer told him that in the current climate, he needed to be more careful. “When I recycle'” Ali asked in amazement.

The university spokesperson said it was “an honest mistake” but added that the institution’s “response was appropriate based on the circumstances”. Its president appreciated Ali’s distress, but denied that the call to the police had anything to do with his race.

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