Sunday, February 23, 2003
War on Terrorism: The FBI last week arrested former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian -- finally. Al-Arian got in trouble more than a year ago after appearing on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." O'Reilly confronted Al-Arian with statements he was videotaped making: "Let us damn America. Let us damn Israel (and) their allies until their death."
As recounted in the CBS story, Al-Arian gave O'Reilly a similar explanation to the one he gave CBS.
Right. That's a stupid comment. But what really was meant here is the American policy. It's a figure of speech. Death to Israel means death to the system. It's like saying death to the occupation.
To quote Bill Cosby: RIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!
Let's try this:
"Let us damn Saudi Arabia. Let us damn them and their allies until their death."
Now, what are the odds that CAIR would buy the exact same explanation from me?
Al-Arian has been a cause celebre with the left since USF tried to fire him for "exercising his free speech rights."
The Independent Media Center described the case this way:
One of the essays is written by Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida professor who was fired because he appeared on the Fox News Channel show, The O'Reilly Factor. Al-Arian is typical of the people who find themselves under fire in the war against terrorism: he has no links to any of the 9-11 terrorists, and he denounced all terrorist attacks on innocent civilians without reserve. Yet because of his past criticism of Israel, and his guilt-by-association links to Palestinian terrorists, Al-Arian was deemed too dangerous to teach computer science.
The University of South Florida (USF) at first claimed ludicrous grounds for Al-Arian's firing: that he violated his contract as a tenured professor by appearing on a talk show without distancing himself from the university, and that he could be fired solely for receiving death threats which "disrupted" the university. A university where any professor can be fired for getting a death threat is neither safe nor free.
After being denounced even by conservative groups and Bill O'Reilly, USF on August 21, 2002 announced a change in tactics: Al-Arian would now be fired for his "terrorist" activities a decade earlier, even though he had never been charged with any crime despite extensive investigations, and a USF report had cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Technically, firing a tenured professor for his speeches and conference criticizing Israel is an even clearer violation of academic freedom, which is why USF avoided making this argument at the start. But in the wave of hysteria surrounding the war on terror, anyone labeled a "terrorist" can be fired without good reason. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wanted Al-Arian fired, and his self-appointed Board of Trustees pressured USF to fire Al-Arian on any grounds.
The Al-Arian case poses an enormous threat to academic freedom: any professor can be fired for terrorist acts by anyone who works for an organization he founded, or even if a future terrorist attends a conference he organizes. Any professor can be fired for raising money for humanitarian causes if any of the money goes to a relative of a terrorist, even if it is done without his knowledge.
Now, this is an old report, but even with the facts that were known at that time, this was like putting lipstick on a pig. "Death to Israel" is "criticism?"
While most Americans were able to tell early on that Al-Arian wasn't someone who you really want to be seen in polite company with, some were tripping all over themselves to defend him.
The New York Post's John Podhoretz pointed out two of those self-appointed protectors of free speech.
The Times' Nicholas Kristof fell for Al-Arian's line of malarkey as though he were one of the dopey girls on "Joe Millionaire." Kristof's ludicrous column of March 1, 2002, describes "Professor Al-Arian" as "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.' "
The act of singing "God Bless America" proves someone is innocent of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism?
Eric Boehlert of Salon.com expressed outrage that the Fox News Channel had taken out after Al-Arian. He described Al-Arian as an "innocent professor" and added that "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."
The key issue for Kristof and Boehlert had to do with academic freedom - the principle that unpopular or controversial opinions deserve special protection at universities. In September 2001, after an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," the University of South Florida began proceedings to fire Al-Arian from his tenured position.
To Kristof and others, that notion was beyond the pale. The case, Kristof wrote, "is less about Professor Al-Arian than it is about ourselves: what kind of universities we desire, how much dissent we dare tolerate and how we treat minorities in times of national stress."
Yet this fact was well-known long before Kristof wrote that his column: Al-Arian was using the university as a means of organizing and fund-raising for a terrorist group.
It's a matter of public record that Al-Arian started a so-called "think tank" at the University of South Florida (USF) and hired as its director a man named Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. Shallah wasn't contacted by a headhunter and offered the job at Islamic Jihad one day out of the blue. He'd already been working for it for years. Which means he was working for Islamic Jihad under USF's auspices.
The university knew all about Sami Al-Arian for years. And officials there essentially closed their eyes and let him continue. Why? Precisely because of "academic freedom." But after 9/11, their dereliction of duty became a matter of public record - and after years of refusing to act, the university's new president finally chose to do something. Yet the American Association of University Professors actually threatened to remove USF's accreditation should it proceed with Al-Arian's dismissal.
This is madness. "Academic freedom" does not include the right to plan and execute a conspiracy to murder hundreds of people, including two American citizens - not under any concept of academic freedom known to any rational being.
Podhoretz has it exactly right.
I'm curious to see how Kristof and Boelhert respond to last week's news.