Jewish World Review July 8, 2002 / 28 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Two updates in the story of Sami Al-Arian. Remember him? He's the University of South Florida computer science professor who helped gain an entry visa and a USF position for Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a man who later returned to the Middle East to head up Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian's life changed after a September appearance on the "O'Reilly Factor," possibly because of his tepid performance professing to be shocked, shocked, when told about Shallah's work with Islamic Jihad. Or maybe it was the reference to another Al-Arian performance -- this one, no doubt, more convincing -- in which he declared, "Jihad is our path! Victory to Islam! Death to Israel! Revolution! Revolution until victory! Rolling to Jerusalem!" (Or maybe it was Al-Arian's classic opener in response to the latter: "Let me just put it into context ... ")
Whatever it was, after the prime-time debut of Al-Arian -- who, not incidentally, used to run a pair of USF-affiliated organizations closed by the FBI in 1995 as terrorist fronts -- everything changed. As calls and threats besieged "Terrorism U," as donations and student applications fell off, Al-Arian was suspended with pay. Citing a contractual violation -- something about the professor's failure to stipulate he was not speaking for the university -- and safety concerns about his campus presence, USF President Judy Genshaft announced in December he would be fired.
Then nothing, or not much, as far as visible action. The Justice Department announced in February that Al-Arian was continuing to be investigated for links to terrorism, and the investigation continues. He remains suspended from the university, continues to draw a paycheck and still hasn't been fired. However, the American Association of University Professors has just called for Al-Arian to be reinstated. Concluding that Al-Arian's statements fell "well within" the boundaries of academic freedom, the AAUP urged Genshaft not to fire him -- or else face censure, an action best described as academia's equivalent of cooties.
Well worth pondering is the function of academic freedom's boundaries if even calls for "jihad" and "death to Israel" (and fundraising for both) are considered vital to the unfettered pursuit of excellence in computer science. But there's more. Citing "current and former senior Israeli intelligence officials," the Tampa Tribune reported last week that Al-Arian didn't just hang with people who -- voila -- turned into terrorists, or raise cash for groups linked to terrorism. He also "helped found the governing council of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and then served on it."
No more guilt-by-association -- or even checkbook. The guy was reportedly on the "Jihad board of directors." So where do the bounds of academic freedom lie in this scenario? Mary Burgan, AAUP General Secretary, told me that since the government hasn't brought charges against Al-Arian, AAUP's stance is unchanged by a news report. "You don't fire people because they're suspects," she added. Which sounds fair enough. But should a person suspected of being a booster, banker and director of terrorism be invited to hide out in the Ivory Tower as an exercise of "academic" freedom?
Speaking more generally about the AAUP, Burgan said, "Obviously, we don't agree that academic freedom includes incitement to riot, or incitement to terror," but she begged ignorance when reminded that the Al-Arian statements reported on the "O'Reilly Factor" were incitement. On hearing a reprise of the "jihad" soliloquy -- "Jihad is our path! Victory to Islam! Death to Israel!" etc., etc., etc. -- Burgan said she "would have to see the context. I'm not willing to make a generalization until I see the context."
The context? According to the Tampa paper, authorities are focusing on whether money Al-Arian raised in the United States went to finance Islamic Jihad terrorism in Israel -- "in particular," the paper reports, "an April 1995 bombing attack on a bus that killed eight people in the Gaza Strip," including Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old American student. Stephen Flatow, Alisa's father, testified about his daughter's murder before a federal grand jury in Tampa in December.
Maybe "context" is close at hand.
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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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