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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2002 / 22 Shevat, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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The professor's war -- ONE way American residents used to get money into the pipeline for Islamic Jihad terrorists was to make a check out to the Islamic Committee for Palestine. The ICP was once "the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine," as a Cleveland imam named Fawwaz Damra put it while pitching for the ICP at a 1988 fundraising event that was captured on video and made public awhile back by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "We like to call it the Islamic Committee for Palestine here for security reasons," he explained.

Security reasons? No wink-wink or nudge-nudge necessary: The ICP, a U.S.-based "charity" affiliated with the state-funded University of Southern Florida, was a front organization for Islamic Jihad until the FBI shut it down in 1995. So, too, was the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, another campus-affiliated group until the middle 1990s.

Both ICP and WISE popped up in a Wall Street Journal roundup of American outposts of terrorism written by Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson last year. The two groups were described by William West of the INS as having been "fronts for the purpose of fund-raising activities for the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas terrorist organizations." Both groups, according to West, had another role: to bring terrorists into this country (including the leadership of Islamic Jihad) by helping procure entry visas. And both groups were run by a tenured University of Southern Florida computer science professor named Sami Al-Arian.

Al-Arian, who has never been accused of a crime and denies any links to terrorists, wasn't well known outside Southern Florida until he appeared on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor last fall. Maybe it was because Al-Arian sounded so unconvincingly shocked, shocked that one of his institute invitees, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, had become Islamic Jihad's top dog after returning from the university to the Middle East; or maybe it was because of his classic response to Bill O'Reilly's query whether it was true that Al-Arian had once roared, "Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem." (Al-Arian prefaced his explanation by saying, "Let me just put it into context ... ") In any event, the professor's appearance prompted hundreds of angry phone calls to the university, including a dozen or more death threats and a dip in both donor contributions and student applications. USF president Judy Genshaft was persuaded to fire Al-Arian in December. Now, Al-Arian vows to get his job back.

Question: Should Al-Arian's role in two terror-linked organizations come under the protective cloak of "academic freedom"? In a word: heck no. First Amendment protections start wearing pretty thin once the speech in question goes toward raising not just eyebrows, but money for the latest in explosive-packed belts for the well-dressed suicide bomber. That is, there is little that is "academic" about activities that end up aiding and abetting those who seek political gain through the routinely grotesque slaughter of unarmed civilians.

Simple, right? Just leave it to the academics to complicate things. Rather than call for a definitive investigation into Al-Arian's activities, Genshaft fired him not for his connect-the-dots terrorist ties, but for a bogus-sounding contractual dispute -- something about his failure to stipulate that he wasn't representing the university when speaking publicly -- and safety concerns over his presence on campus. Meanwhile, the St. Peterburg Times reports that the faculty union has voted overwhelmingly "to throw its full support" behind the fired prof while the American Association of University Professors has threatened to censure the university. The AAUP's chief concern: that Al-Arian have "the academic freedom as a citizen to speak out on controversial topics."

Is this case really about "academic freedom"? Is working in support of Islamic Jihad and Hamas just a "controversial topic"? Americans have learned the hard way how easily terror networks have turned our own freedoms against us. We now need to learn how to safeguard those freedoms, to understand when their abuse is not a test of our virtue, but a smokescreen for their enemies. By fudging, not facing, the facts against Al-Arian, the University of Southern Florida is hardly leading by example.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
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12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
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11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
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10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
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10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
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09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West