Just the other week, academics were arguing the legitimacy of inviting anti-Semitic poets to campus in the name of academic freedom. How quaint that now seems. Campus poetry has given way to actual plotting.
A federal indictment late last month charged Sami Al-Arian, a professor at the University of South Florida, with using his campus office and the cover of academic freedom to coordinate financial and terrorist operations, including suicide bombings, for Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The terror trail, according to many, even leads through the White House, which in the name of supporting Arab-American civil rights has been cultivating ties with groups, including those with Al-Arian's membership, that have supported Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad is responsible for more than 100 deaths, including New Jersey's Alisa Flatow, and hundreds of injured Israelis.
Why hide in an Afghan cave when you can be tenured in Florida? The indictments say Islamic Jihad brought terrorists into the United States under the guise of academic conferences and meetings.
Steve Emerson, writing in The New York Post (Feb. 21), said Al-Arian was Islamic Jihad's "CEO." And Emerson told the Miami Herald (Feb. 24) that Al-Arian, 45, a Palestinian with Kuwaiti citizenship, found cover under the traditional American protections for academia, charities and religion, "the trifecta of Western vulnerability."
Emerson, most famously, did a PBS documentary on Al-Arian in 1994, puncturing the heady days of Oslo, pointing out that Islamic Jihad and Al-Arian's Islamic studies think tank on the USF campus had the exact same address.
Caroline Glick, in The Jerusalem Post (Feb. 28), said the terror scam "was the worst-kept secret in the world." One of Al-Arian's research fellows, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, actually went straight from Al-Arian's office "to Damascus to take over the Islamic Jihad."
And yet, Glick wrote, "the result of the documentary was that the liberal establishment in the U.S. branded Emerson a bigoted, Islam-bashing racist while Arian was feted as a civil rights trailblazer for Muslims in America." Additionally, she noted, Emerson was banned from National Public Radio.
The St. Petersburg Times has been rising to the story in its backyard — isn't it our backyard? — with several reporters and columnists on the case. It's also been running extended excerpts from the indictment and Al-Arian's speeches over the years, including such academic insights as "God cursed those who are the sons of Israel. … Those people, God made monkeys and pigs."
John Podhoretz, in The New York Post (Feb. 21), said editors and writers at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, Time, Newsweek and Salon.com ought to be hanging their heads in shame when considering what they have written about Al-Arian before his arrest. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (March 1, 2002) defended Al-Arian as someone who "denounces terrorism [and] promotes interfaith services with Jews and Christians."
Before blaming the Times here, let's also point out that the Times also published Judith Miller's 1,300-word investigation (July 23, 2002) on the money trail that led from suicide bombers to Al-Arian.
Credit for early whistle-blowing goes to columnist James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal Online, who wrote about Al-Arian twice in January alone; small but important Jewish newspapers such as the Connecticut Jewish Ledger; and on-line news magazines, such as World Net Daily, one of the fastest growing Internet journals, edited by Joseph Farrah, a Christian Arab-American.
Along with Emerson, perhaps no one deserves more credit than Daniel Pipes, the syndicated columnist, whose Campus Watch organization has been branded as McCarthyist but whose steady gaze helped keep Al-Arian, and his support from the Middle Eastern studies academic groups, on the front burner.
An editorial in The Washington Post (Feb. 24) said Al-Arian, "far from a victim of a new anti-Muslim McCarthyism" may rank "among the more important terrorists ever arrested and prosecuted in this country." Too many people "were too reflexive in their disbelief" that an urbane, politically active professor — one who had been to the White House and who regularly talked to journalists — could be a genuine terrorist."
Fox News was also on the money. Bill O'Reilly in his grilling of Al-Arian (Sept. 26) told Al-Arian to his face that the CIA ought to be trailing him "24 hours a day."
In any case, the Oracle, the USF school paper (Feb. 22), said the 50 counts of terrorism "do not necessarily mean Al-Arian will be fired." The university did fire Al-Arian.
According to some, if it was up to some White House staffers, Al-Arian wouldn't have been indicted. Glick, in the J-Post, wrote that "Arian's greatest friend and supporter is the Republican political organizer Grover Norquist," a White House insider who along with Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, "has cultivated close relations with radical elements within the U.S. Muslim community."
Shortly before the indictment, there was a Conservative media shootout in The Washington Times (Feb. 7) and on-line journals in which leading Conservatives such as Frank Gaffney, who worked in the Reagan administration, complained that Norquist was using crude tactics to damn critics as racially motivated bigots.
Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic (March 3) argued that Bush "cannot govern as Winston Churchill some of the time and as Grover Norquist most of the time." David Frum, Bush's former speechwriter, added in The National Review on-line (Feb. 21), "this is where the story gets painful for us Bush Republicans. Not only were the Al-Arians not avoided by the Bush White House, they were actively courted." The Al-Arian case, Frum wrote, "was not a solitary lapse."
Frum said candidate Bush "very determinedly reached out to Muslim voters." Which brings us back to the controversial Florida vote.
"One survey suggests that the 50,000 Muslim voters of Florida," Al-Arian's home base, "reacted to Gore's selection of Joe Lieberman as his running mate by voting 80 percent for Bush," Frum wrote. While campaigning in Florida, Bush even gave Al-Arian's son, college-aged Abdullah, one of his trademark nicknames, "Big Dude," and had other dealings with Al-Arian himself.
Frum is bothered that the Bush campaign forged relationships with "some very disturbing persons in the Muslim-American community."
Has that hindered this investigation? Eric Lichtblau and Judith Miller wrote in the Times (Feb. 22), "The case languished for years, with investigators complaining that they were not getting the support they needed from top law enforcement officials in Washington." One person on the case said, "We had so many obstacles that were put in our way."
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported (Feb. 20) that Israeli academics are reacting to the "outright hostility, verbal abuse and countless snubs" from European and American academics.
Israelis, said the Globe, are "putting professional niceties aside to condemn these overseas colleagues as radicalized anti-Semites" who aim "to shut down not only international academic exchanges and tourism, but also science research."
Apparently, these same Western academics support academic freedom for Al-Arian but want to ostracize Jewish academics who take no political stand stronger than Israeli citizenship. n