Sami Al-Arian, a tenured professor at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, might lose his job any day now. Most coverage of his problems portrays the computer scientist as the victim of a political witch-hunt - and so misses the real story, which is about his links to terrorism.
A New York Times editorial criticizing USF for planning to fire Al-Arian gives the impression that the issue is a long-ago speech calling for "victory to Islam" and "death to Israel." Salon.com's account suggests the Palestinian prof might be dismissed for merely failing to inform viewers of a television show that his political views "did not necessarily reflect" those of USF.
The university administration has stumbled over itself, raising inconsistent grounds for letting go of Al-Arian. One moment, it says his activities "outside the scope of his employment . . . had an adverse impact on the legitimate interests of the University." Next, USF announces it "cannot guarantee the safety of Dr. Al-Arian and students, faculty and staff around him" should he remain on campus. It also accuses him of trespassing on university property after having been banned from it. Oh, and it complains that his case has cost the university lots of money.
None of these poor excuses is the real grounds for sacking Al-Arian. Unfortunately, finding out the real problem is not easy. Fortunately, there is a source for it - the same investigative reporter who first broke the Al-Arian story back in 1994. Steven Emerson devotes a chapter of his hard-hitting, brand-new book "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living among Us" (Free Press) to the USF saga.
There and in other writings, Emerson reveals the good professor's activities:
Al-Arian founded two organizations, the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP) and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), which - according to an Immigration and Naturalization Service affidavit - were used as fronts to enable terrorists to enter the United States.
At ICP conferences, speakers would "condone violent acts against Israel, and Israelis, and Jews and Western targets," then go on to solicit funds to engage in such acts, again according to the INS.
Al-Arian himself wrote letters soliciting funds for these causes, says the FBI.
Al-Arian used his USF office to do ICP business on at least one occasion.
The ICP was known as the American arm of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization with a record of killing Americans, such as 20-year-old Alisa Flatow. "We like to call it the Islamic Committee for Palestine here for security reasons," announced one ICP fundraiser.
Al-Arian served as the visa sponsor for Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to enter the United States, invited him to Tampa, hired him to run WISE, placed him on the ICP board, and encouraged USF to appoint him a professor of Middle East Studies. Later, Shallah left Tampa for another job: He's now secretary-general of Islamic Jihad.
Emerson reports that the FBI, while searching the WISE offices, "uncovered one of the largest collections of terrorist fund-raising and propaganda material ever seized in the United States." It also discovered many connections between WISE and international terrorists.
Al-Arian, in short, has been an integral part of the terror network that Americans now find themselves at war with. His case is not about academic freedom of speech but about a professor being held accountable for being part of a terrorist apparatus that has killed Americans.
The media (with the notable exception of The Tampa Tribune) has largely ignored Professor Al-Arian's terrorist activities, as have faculty labor unions, student groups, Islamic organizations and civil libertarians.
Fortunately, Steven Emerson is there to provide documentation and explanation. More than any other source, his American Jihad accurately and courageously informs the government and people of the United States in detail that their enemy in the war on terror resides not just in the caves of Afghanistan but also in their very midst, even at their leading universities.
Encouraging USF President Judy Genshaft (firstname.lastname@example.org) to stand up to the misinformed pressure groups might help her make the right decision about Al-Arian's position. It's important she expel him, both to absolve her institution of "Jihad U" charges and to show that American universities are doing their part in the war on terrorism.