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The Case of Sami Al-Arian By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 08, 2002

THERE IS A MAJOR DISPUTE brewing among conservatives, and it concerns the recent announcement of University of South Florida (USF) President Judy Genshaft that she is going to dismiss from his post as a professor of computer sciences Professor Sami Al-Arian, who has been accused of ties to and involvement with terrorist groups, in particular, Islamic Jihad.

The dispute has created a new coalition of conservative and libertarian defenders of individual rights opposed to political correctness on the campus, First Amendment absolutists, and old-line Leftists who are gunning for an example of how the Bush administration’s war on terror is producing a “new McCarthyism.” Thus, in the cover story in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, left-wing historian Ellen Schrecker is quoted as saying his dismissal is proof that “universities are going back to political correctness…It’s really political repression.” Professor Schrecker, who has argued that the Communist spies for the Soviet Union in the 1940’s and 50’s should be excused, because they were motivated by “different standards of patriotism,” is always quick to exonerate those accused of true betrayal of their country and to condemn Washington for waging a witch-hunt.

Moreover, Professor Schrecker has not been heard from in defense of the rights of scores of conservatives who have been blacklisted in the academy; she has not, for example, said one word about the importance of the Luntz survey of the academy. His survey, commissioned by David Horowitz and run through the Center for The Study of Popular Culture, revealed how the entire institution of higher education in the elite universities is stacked in favor of the political Left and against the hiring of any diverse voices of conservative intellectuals and scholars. The Luntz study offers a prima facie case of the systematic bias in hiring that exists in today’s academy.

Like the old Stalinists, Professor Schrecker and other academics of the Left now defend the rights of a bona fide anti-American professor, a man who is openly anti-Semitic and a man who publicly has incited hatred to Israel and acted in support of America’s opponents. The Left always supported freedom of speech for their own; while regularly opposing the same rights for their opponents. In fact, the celebration of someone like Sami Al-Arian is itself an example of political correctness par excellence; since it was the Left that created and defined political correctness. In fact, being an anti-American and pro-Palestinian advocate is hardly an unpopular position on most of the nation’s campuses. As the charmed career of Edward Said at Columbia University has shown—a man who once sat on the Palestinian National Council in the days when the PLO was openly practicing terrorism, and who was recently captured by a photographer throwing a rock at Israeli forces on the West Bank they are often treated as culture heroes. In Said’s case, the entire scholarly establishment of Middle Eastern studies defines its ouvre in the terms created by Said. As Martin Kramer has shown in his book Ivory Towers in the Sand, the entire field has become a “factory of errors,” a field whose practitioners demand conformity to the party line set by Edward Said.

One has not seen those running to the defense of Al-Arian coming to the defense of scores of un-politically correct academics who have been cast out as a result of their views. A few years ago, Stephen Thernstrom found himself accused of racism and became virtually persona non grata at Harvard as a result of his willingness to violate the Left’s world-view in his teaching. Despite his standing as a major social historian, I cannot recall one figure on the Left coming to his defense. The defense of Al-Arian is not a revolt against political correctness; it is an expression of it. Indeed, the very fact that the AAUP and the faculty teacher unions are making Al-Arian a new cause celebre shows how they function today as the enforcers of the new political correctness.

The problem, as Professor Alan Kors points out in a letter to the USF president, written on behalf of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is that the University’s announced reason for Al-Arian’s dismissal is that his presence on the campus has endangered the security of the campus not because of anything Al-Arian has done but because hate mail, threats and opposition to his presence on campus has created a disruptive atmosphere which necessitates his dismissal. As Kors wrote, “angry individuals outside of the University, who wished to see Professor Al-Arian sanctioned, fired, or harmed for his protected beliefs and affiliations,” have created the dangerous campus situation. This is what Kors calls a “heckler’s veto,” which “actually encourages the threat of violence to accomplish the dismissal of professors disliked by any portion of the public.” It is not Al-Arian’s unpopular views that are dangerous and disruptive, Kors asserts, but the “death threats [against him that] is disruptive.” To dismiss Al-Arian is therefore to “reward thugs by punishing the object of their threats.”

The new USF standard, if universally applied, would in fact lead to the end of the free university in the United States. It is, in Kors’ eyes, a pure and simple civil liberties issue. Kors, a scholar who does not suffer fools gladly, is the co-author of The Shadow University:The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, a book which is probably the single best primer on the cult of political correctness and how it has almost destroyed our system of higher education. Kors now argues that no charges have ever been formally brought against Al-Arian as being guilty of propagating terrorism, and the only charge made by the University is that his off campus activity speech protected by the First Amendment has led to threats against him of a disruptive nature. Had Al-Arian not appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on September 26, an appearance in which the Professor’s rabid and vitriolic anti-Israeli views were exposed, such threats would not have taken place, and the University (which had in fact been fully aware of his off-campus activities before O’Reilly) would not have acted to dismiss him. Kors is correct on this issue. Conservatives especially must stand in the forefront of protecting First Amendment rights. That is why The Individual Rights Foundation, an affiliate of CSPC, issued an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Leonard Jeffries, the African-American CCNY professor who was under the gun for delivery of a vicious anti-Semitic speech he gave off campus.

To Kors, as well as the faculty union at USF, the AAUP and other academic groups springing to Al-Arian’s defense, the Professor is being fired for unpopular political beliefs, protected associations and what Kors terms “unproven suspicions.” As the Chronicle asks, is it a case of “Blaming the Victim?” It is clear that if the issue is the reason asserted by USF for firing Al-Arian that of the threat of disruption caused by a criminal response to his opinions then Al-Arian has to be defended and the University’s action must be opposed. But that is, in fact, the big if. Careful examination of the underlying issues reveals, however, that a good deal of evidence exists that leads to the necessity of dismissing Al-Arian but the University of Southern Florida has sought to bypass this evidence, and to fire him for the wrong reasons reasons that may in fact be unconstitutional and dangerous to the preservation of political liberty on the campus.

What Alan Kors fails to address is the nature of the serious allegations about Al-Arian made by scores of reputable and distinguished authors, journalists and editors, including the editors of The Weekly Standard, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Stephen Schwartz all of whom are in the thick of investigating the serious threat to America of Islamic-Fascism. Pipes, whose column was on these pages a few days ago, stresses that the real issue is Al-Arian’s “links to terrorism,” and not his unpopular political views. Citing Steven Emerson’s new book American Jihad:The Terrorists Living Among Us, Pipes catalogues the various substantive charges. Essentially, Emerson and Pipes argue that groups Al-Arian founded and ran at USF were terrorist fronts, in which speakers regularly condoned violent acts against Israel, raised funds for these causes from their audience, and functioned in effect as “the American arm of Islamic Jihad.” Most importantly, Al-Arian was the visa sponsor for Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to come to this country, where he hired him to work at WISE (The World Islamic Studies Enterprise) and sought to have USF hire him as a Professor of Middle East studies. Later, this same Shallah turned up in Syria as Secretary-General of Islamic Jihad.

Al Arian claims, as he told the Chronicle, that Shallah’s terrorist activities even caught the Israelis by surprise, and that when he worked at the USF Department of International Affairs in the mid 90’s, he did not know that he had any connections with Islamic Jihad. This, however, is somewhat similar to the old denials of Communist Party chief Earl Browder in the 1940’s that he had no connections with Soviet espionage; that he was persecuted as were other Communists simply for their unpopular ideas, like his opposition to US intervention in Europe at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Of course, as the Venona decrypts proved, Browder and other top Communists were heavily involved in Soviet espionage, and used the supposedly independent and autonomous American Communist Party as a link for KGB recruits. Of course, this could not be proved until the 1990’s and the Venona decrypts--- decades after the Soviet espionage was an event of the distant past.

As Stephen Schwartz notes, American Communists who supported the Moscow purges, the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the assassination of Leon Trotsky were loyal to the secret police of a foreign government, supported the USSR’s foreign policy unconditionally, and supported the betrayal of their own country by American secret Communists who infiltrated the highest levels of government on behalf of the Soviet Union’s espionage apparatus. Al-Arian, “as a defender of Hamas,” Schwartz puts it, “is loyal to a foreign terrorist organization, supports a policy inimical to the United States, and supports the terrorist work of organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

In Al-Arian’s case, an FBI raid on the WISE headquarters produced 500 videotapes, including the now famous one of Al-Arian speaking over ten years ago, to an Arab audience at one of his groups, to whom he said: “Jihad is our path. Victory for Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until Victory. Rolling to Jerusalem.” These words, hardly benign, cannot be so easily excused as they are by Al-Arian today, as simply words spoken in the context of the first intifada and only represented opposition to “Israel military forces in the occupied territories.” His claim that “death to Israel” does not mean “death to Jews” in the face of so much evidence that in fact this is precisely what it means, does not ring true.

Emerson offers documentation and context which shows how a man like Sami Al-Arian is “an integral part of the terror network;” the same network America is at war against. As expected, some on the Left are among the first to rush to Al-Arian’s support. Bruce Shapiro, a Nation magazine editor, writing in Salon, goes on the offensive by trying to smear Emerson, condemning him as “no neutral observer of the Islamic scene,” as if that characterization disproves Emerson’s careful investigative work. Emerson, whose own work on the terrorist infrastructure has in fact proved all too accurate, is accused by Shapiro of having “lost much of his credibility as a journalist” when he argued before we knew about Timothy McVeigh that the bombing at Oklahoma City might have been the work of Islamic terrorists. Like so many Communists and fellow-travelers who always said their accusers were condemning them through “guilt by association,” he quotes Al-Arian as saying Emerson’s work is “a classic example of guilt by association.” And Shapiro dismisses Emerson by saying that he was “citing anonymous sources” when he proclaimed Al-Arian’s center “the primary support group in the United States” for Islamic Jihad.

Actually, Emerson cites unnamed sources, whose identity has to be protected to prevent violent acts unleashed against them by Islamic terrorists. Again, returning to the 1940’s, the US government sought to deport the ILWU union leader Harry Bridges, an Australian, as a Communist. Bridges and his defenders swore he was condemned due to guilt by association, that those who named him were anonymous liars working for the shipping bosses and the FBI. We learned after Venona and the release of Comintern files that not only was Bridges a Communist, but was a secret member of the CPUSA’s Central Committee. His accusers were right despite the fierce protests of Bridges’ defenders on the Left. Can it really be a coincidence that Abdullah Shallah, the co-editor of the USF center’s journal, turned up six months after leaving USF in Syria, as the general secretary of Islamic Jihad? Can we really believe that Al-Arian, that nice man with the winning smile, was surprised?

As it is, Al-Arian’s “Death to Israel” speech is made up of words protected by the First Amendment; we can only protect our own free speech by protecting those whose utterances we despise. But aiding, abetting and supporting terrorist groups and networks is a different matter. That is not a First Amendment issue. The problem is that the USF administration has moved against Sami Al-Arian for fraudulent and possibly unconstitutional reasons. Because of this, he is already becoming a poster boy for academic freedom and political liberty. His smiling face is to be found in the Chronicle story, with a quotation under it in which Al-Arian says “This is the United States of America. We have some very important rights, and we’re not willing to give them up.” As the story by Sharon Walsh puts it, many see him as a “soft-spoken teacher and adviser who cares about his students; a community-spirited man who has worked to bring an understanding of the Muslim culture to his Christian and Jewish neighbors; and an intellectual who advocates pluralism.” Hardly the same Sami Al-Arian who shouts for “Revolution until victory.”

Stephen Schwartz, author of the forthcoming book Two Faces of Islam: Tolerance vs. Terror, puts it this way: “Sami Al-Arian is self-evidently, by his own voluntary, public statements, a supporter of terrorism, in the same way American Stalinists were…supporters of Soviet espionage and terrorism. …His defenders advance the same dishonest claims that were made in defense of American Stalinists. They assert that the charges are false…or if that Al-Arian did anything it was benign….The charges are true: Al-Arian defended, funded, assisted, hosted, and otherwise supported terrorists….The activities were not benign; they involved a criminal fraud, in that money was solicited for the relief of children and then sent to the Middle East under conditions where its actual disbursement could not be effectively monitored. Al-Arian has continued to refuse every opportunity to forthrightly answer questions put to him in public. He should be deported from U.S. soil forthwith.”

And so the issue rests. By dismissing him from his USF posts on spurious grounds, the administration of that university has created a new martyr for academic freedom, even though he is a man who is more than likely to be part of the terrorist infrastructure aimed at the heart of the United States. By avoiding the real issues involved, they have muddied the waters and made a hero out of a man whose center featured speakers, as one observer put it, who never provided “time for a discussion of the truth or falsity of many of the assertions made,” preferring instead to let a continuing series of “lies and hatred” permeate their speeches. Hardly an academic approach. Al-Arian’s speakers avoided any “debate” and preferred instead to sow “hatred for the state of Israel and the Jewish people.” And it is refreshing to see that a former president of a Florida teacher’s union, Norman N. Gross, has pointed out that Al-Arian “is not guilty by association with terrorists; he is guilty in association with terrorists.” As a man who fought for the rights of many unjustly denied tenure, Gross notes that Al-Arian’s dismissal has really do to with the US war on terrorism; to make him a martyr for tenure and academic freedom makes it all the more difficult to defend the real victims of denial of academic freedom. Gross writes : “Al-Arian must go!”

His argument has the ring of familiarity. In the 1950’s, liberal anti-Communists like Sidney Hook argued vigorously that those liberals who failed to address the real Communist threat, allowed actual Communists some of whom were guilty of more than simply expressing their ideas to hide behind the mask of being an innocent victim of McCarthyism. Their tactic made it more difficult for actual dissenters to protect their civil liberties. Those Communists engaged in espionage, like Alger Hiss, wanted Americans to confuse dissent with treason, and demagogues like Joe McCarthy had an easier job of portraying actual dissenters as Communist traitors. It is important in this new era of the war against terrorism, that we do not repeat old mistakes.

Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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