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Al-Arian: Terrorist Professor and His Campus Allies By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The indictment of Sami Al-Arian is damning. It alleges that this former professor at the University of South Florida was the head of the American wing of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He also held a key position in the group’s worldwide leadership and even established a cell of the terrorist group at his university.

From the looks of the indictment, he has been an active leader. He helped sponsor conferences at which Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a principal conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, addressed adoring crowds. He established a think tank called the World and Islam Studies Enterprises and hired Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to run it. Shallah went on to become the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Al-Arian used his professorial status, according to the indictment, to bring other members of his terrorist group into this country "under the guise of academic conferences and meetings." He helped Palestinian Islamic Jihad members "receive cover as teachers or students" at USF. He also worked to strengthen Islamic Jihad’s ties with other terrorist groups — principally Hamas and Hezbollah.

The indictment also makes clear that Al-Arian knew about and approved of the primary mission of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: bringing death and suffering to the perceived enemies of Islam. When two Islamic Jihad suicide bombers killed eighteen people in Israel in 1995, Al-Arian called them "two mujahidin martyred for the sake of God." Mujahidin are warriors of jihad.

Islamic Jihad has killed scores of others in Israel, both by suicide bombing and simple assassination. These include not only soldiers but a taxi driver named Ilan Sudri; a 20-year-old American woman, Alisa Flatow; a 73-year-old woman named Sylvia Bernstein; and numerous other civilians.

Al-Arian has been under suspicion for years now. As long ago as 1994, Steve Emerson’s PBS documentary, Jihad in America, identified the professor as the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s American group. Federal officials began to investigate him for terrorist activities in 1996, and that investigation continued until the indictment was issued last week.

If Sami Al-Arian is as guilty as the evidence indicates, he has a great deal of blood on his hands.

Nevertheless, for just about as long as he has been investigated, Al-Arian has been lionized by liberals as the victim of a right-wing witch hunt. According to the Left, Bill O’ Reilly kicked this witch hunt into high gear during a wild interview on The O’Reilly Factor on September 26, 2001. "If I was the CIA, I’d follow you wherever you went," O’Reilly told his guest, refusing to let Al-Arian off the hook about evidence that the professor was involved with terrorist individuals and organizations.

Subsequently USF bowed to mounting evidence that the allegations might really be true, and suspended the professor. This move came after years of hesitation by university officials, who had allowed themselves to be deterred from making the move earlier by liberals who raised the hoary bugaboos of discrimination and academic freedom. Without this resistance, Al-Arian might have been gone from USF not long after federal investigations of him began in earnest.

When he was suspended, the Left really swung into action. Al-Arian himself pushed all the right buttons: "I’m a minority. I’m an Arab, I’m Palestinian. I’m a Muslim. That’s not a popular thing to be these days. Do I have rights, or don't I have rights?" Professor Roy Weatherford of the USF faculty union filed a grievance on Al-Arian’s behalf, complaining — you guessed it — that his dismissal was discriminatory and violated the professor’s academic freedom. The American Association of University Professors piled on, intoning that "Professor Al-Arian’s statements fell well within the ambit of academic freedom." The Chronicle of Higher Education published a cover story called "Blaming the Victim?" and featuring a photo of Al-Arian. The irrepressible Congressman David Bonior (D-MI), who accepted at least $3,000 in contributions from Al-Arian and his wife, in January 2002 joined the crowd in opining that Al-Arian was a victim of anti-Arab bigotry.

In March 2002 Nicholas Kristof went to bat for the professor in the New York Times: "The point is not whether one agrees with Professor Al-Arian, a rumpled academic with a salt-and-pepper beard who is harshly critical of Israel (and also of repressive Arab countries) — but who also denounces terrorism, promotes inter-faith services with Jews and Christians, and led students at his Islamic school to a memorial service after 9/11 where they all sang ‘God Bless America.’ No, the larger point is that a university, even a country, becomes sterile when people are too intimidated to say things out of the mainstream."

Ah. How could a rumpled academic who denounces terrorism and promotes inter-faith services be bad? Oh, and by the way, what did Al-Arian say that was out of the mainstream? Nothing much — just a few bouts of exuberance like "Death to America, death to Israel, jihad, jihad, jihad!" (For the record, Al-Arian denies that he said "Death to America," although others say that they have the statement on tape.)

Phil Donahue fawned over Al-Arian on his show. "So, one more time, sir," he said to the professor, "and I know that you’re probably getting tired of these same questions — ‘death to Israel’ did not mean you wanted to kill Jews, do I understand your position?" After Al-Arian assured him of his pacifistic intentions, Phil went on to allege that "the law of innocent until proven guilty doesn’t seem to exist for Professor Sami Al-Arian." He worried for Al-Arian’s safety: "You are swimming upstream, professor, and this must be quite a shock to you. I know that your life has been threatened. I assume you have security."

Eric Boehlert of Salon magazine was eager to slay the dragons of hysteria and bigotry that were besmirching the reputation of this rumpled academic. His January 19, 2002 article was entitled "The prime-time smearing of Sami Al-Arian" and carried this subhead: "By pandering to anti-Arab hysteria, NBC, Fox News, Media General and Clear Channel radio disgraced themselves — and ruined an innocent professor’s life."

"In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," Boehlert intoned, "all four media giants, eagerly tapping into the country’s mood of vengeance and fear, latched onto the Al-Arian story, fudging the facts and ignoring the most rudimentary tenets of journalism in their haste to better tell a sinister story about lurking Middle Eastern dangers here at home. . . . Not even his harshest critics suggest Al-Arian has done anything in the last five years that could be even remotely construed as aiding terrorist organizations." This despite the fact that Bill O’Reilly had discussed Al-Arian’s alleged ties to Islamic Jihad with Al-Arian himself on national television.

Muslim spokesmen insisted all along that Al-Arian was completely innocent. Eric Vickers of the American Muslim Council went into the No-Spin Zone to defend Al-Arian: "Well, Bill, first let me say that when you had Mr. — Professor Arian on your show, you didn’t grill him, you assassinated his character. You presented him to all the world as a terrorist. And there is absolutely no evidence of that."

Waseem Shehzad of the Muslim news service Crescent International declared that Al-Arian "was hounded for years because of false allegations against him made by Steve Emerson, a Zionist Jew with close links to the Israeli secret service, Mossad. The university’s own internal investigation with the help of FBI showed that the allegations against Dr. Al-Arian were completely false." (Emerson lays out a good deal of evidence against Al-Arian in his book American Jihad, detailing, among other things, the professor’s efforts to raise money for Islamic Jihad.)

Jason Erb of the Council on American-Islamic Relations dismissed a series of March 2002 police raids initiated to find evidence on Al-Arian as a "blind fishing expedition." Shaker Elsayed of the Muslim American Society added: "This is becoming a war on Muslim institutions" and charged that the professor was being "targeted by Steve Emerson and Emerson liaisons in the Justice Department."

But now that the Justice Department itself has issued a detailed indictment, are all these people walking around today with egg on their faces and explaining that maybe, just maybe, they spoke too hastily in the professor’s defense? Alas, such humility is hard to come by. Now that he has been indicted, Al-Arian is more of a hero to the Left than ever. After all, John Ashcroft is an even bigger right-wing witch hunter than Bill O’Reilly. Ernest Hooper of the St. Petersburg Times gave an early indication of the new line in a column published 48 hours after the indictment: "Al-Arian’s indictment brings out the bigots."

Similarly, the Chairman of the University of South Florida’s Alliance of Concerned Students, Sean Kinane, huffed after Al-Arian’s arrest: "I’ve heard George Bush say, ‘They hate our freedom.’ The only ‘they’ I can think of is John Ashcroft and the U.S. justice system." Reporters on the scene failed to discover how Mr. Kinane has managed to make it through the last two years without ever hearing of Osama bin Laden.

With hordes of damn-the-evidence defenders like Kinane lining up behind him, Sami Al-Arian looks to be well on his way to becoming the new Alger Hiss. It didn’t matter to Hiss’s supporters how many people died miserable deaths in the Gulag their hero helped support, and it doesn’t matter to Al-Arian’s how many innocent civilians the rumpled academic’s friends have blasted to bits on the streets of Tel Aviv.

But another comparison may end up being more precise. Said a Jordanian on the scene in Florida, Ahmed Qadah: "I definitely want to see how the trial goes — it will be like watching the O.J. Simpson trial," he said. Maybe it will. Like O.J., Al-Arian could turn out to be blood-soaked and guilty, but free by dint of victim-group mau-mauing. If that happens, Al-Arian will be closer to getting the wish he once expressed so memorably: "Let us damn America, let us damn Israel, let us damn them and their allies until death."

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.

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