JUPITER -- The first words out of Caroline Taylor's mouth were "I'm sorry."
She was apologizing to her professor, Mustafa Abu Sway, as they walked to class at Florida Atlantic University's Honors College.
Two days earlier, a watchdog group linked Abu Sway, 45, a Fulbright professor visiting from Israel, with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
She and other students were supportive of Abu Sway and disturbed about the implications of the accusation.
"I'm so angry about it, that a prestigious scholar would be labeled as a terrorist" said Taylor, a senior at the Honors College, who is writing her thesis on Islamic women and taking Abu Sway's course on contemporary Islamic thinkers. "It reminds me of the Communist scare."
This week Abu Sway, a soft-spoken academic, found himself uncharacteristically the center of attention at FAU's otherwise tranquil north campus.
Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, wrote in an opinion piece published in the New York Post Monday that sources in the Israeli government connected Abu Sway with Hamas. He did not provide further documentation, but insisted that Abu Sway did not belong under the protections of academic freedom.
The sinister issue, Pipes said, is that the U.S. government is paying, via the Fulbright program, to import a member of an illegal terrorist group into a university. Abu Sway has made statements critical of Israel and has spoken at meetings also attended by Hamas-connected figures, according to another watchdog group, the Investigative Project, which published several pages of what it considers questionable statements by Abu Sway, who lives in East Jerusalem.
A member of several interfaith organizations, Abu Sway denied a connection to Hamas or terrorism. FAU officials said the Fulbright Foundation assured them that Abu Sway had been sufficiently vetted before arriving in the United States last summer, and are planning no action against Abu Sway, unless they get further information from the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing Abu Sway's file. His FAU visit ends at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year.
The tall, bearded academic stood calmly as students' dismay swirled around him.
As he taught his two scheduled classes, it was business as usual, with students swilling coffee and busily copying down vocabulary terms for Islamic concepts.
"The accusation seemed incongruous, puzzling," said Michael Degani, 20, a junior. "It didn't meld with my impression of him. He talks about paradigms for reconciliation. On the whole, he's very moderate."
Later, Abu Sway sat outside a coffee bar chatting with psychology Professor Kevin Lanning and senior Ari Rosenberg. To all appearances, it might have been one of those easygoing and wide-ranging exchanges that happen every day on college campuses.
But this particular conversation was far more real-life than abstract.
Turning to Rosenberg, who is writing a thesis on attitudes about civil liberties in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Abu Sway observed dryly about himself, "Now you have a case study."
Abu Sway and Lanning are advising Rosenberg on his research, which is being subsidized by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, one of the key federal agencies in the war on terrorism.
That is only one of many ironies about Abu Sway's situation.
At home in East Jerusalem, where Abu Sway frequently speaks at interfaith gatherings, he is used to being criticized by both Palestinians and Israelis. Because his statements do not follow party lines, they are viewed with suspicion.
Susan Saxton visited Abu Sway's class this week. She teaches a class in diversity for the online Cappella University and found his case germane to her work. Also, her daughter, Stephanie Franz, 17, is a freshman at the Honors College. It irks her that both Abu Sway's accusers and FAU officials are vague about specifics.
"If this guy has ties (to terrorism), we should all know. Show me the data."
A citizen of Jordan, Abu Sway lives in East Jerusalem, where he is an associate professor at the Islamic Research Center at Al-Quds University. He received his B.A. at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston College.
His case bears several eerie parallels to that of another academic, Sami Al Arian, an associate professor of engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa since 1986 until he was fired because of an alleged connection to a terrorist group. In 1994, he was identified by a television documentary as a key supporter of Islamic Jihad, one of the Middle East's most notorious terrorist groups.
The documentary quoted inflammatory statements by Al Arian, which he said were taken out of context. The documentary was produced by investigative reporter Steven Emerson, whose organization, the Investigative Project, also provided quotes from Abu Sway's speeches.
Al Arian vigorously protested his innocence, saying that he was being targeted by an Israeli-backed campaign against Palestinians.
But as the case unfolded, evidence mounted against Al Arian. In February, he was arrested, and is now in jail awaiting trial in Tampa on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges.