One might assume that Muslim organizations seeking to portray themselves as moderate would shun characters like Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who admitted to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and is widely believed to be its North American head. But those assumptions are dead wrong. Al-Arian remains a cause célèbre among lobby groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which doubled down on its public support after he was released earlier this month to await trial on contempt charges:
"We welcome Dr. Al-Arian's release and hope that it is an indication that justice may ultimately be served in this disturbing case," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "After so many years of anguish, the Al-Arian children will finally be able to spend Ramadan with their father."
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued a similarly gleeful statement, adding that:
Since his arrest five years ago, Al-Arian's case has become an example of what many American Muslims perceived to be numerous post-9/11 political persecutions of individuals using tactics that amount to little more than guilt by association.
Actually, in this instance it is guilt by association with terrorists that have murdered scores of civilians, including Americans Alisa Flatow and Shoshana Ben-Yishai — two young women who, unlike Al-Arian, will never celebrate another holiday with their loved ones.
In 2003 Al-Arian was charged with seventeen counts related to material support of terrorism. Despite videos showing him at rallies that glorified attacks on Jews, a jury acquitted him of eight counts and hung on the others. To avoid further prosecution, he pled guilty to one count of "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods, or services to or for the benefit of" PIJ and agreed to be deported after completing his sentence. However, he remained in prison beyond his scheduled release for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Islamic charities. His contempt trial has been postponed pending an appeal over the immunity parameters of his plea agreement. On September 2 he walked out of jail and is now under house arrest.
One element of the Al-Arian saga that has not varied amidst all the ups and downs is the eager support he has received from CAIR and other Islamist lobby groups. Through the years they have called for loyalists to fast in solidarity with his hunger strikes, visited him in prison, and sponsored screenings of a whitewashed documentary to raise defense funds. Their insistence that a government conspiracy has targeted Al-Arian recalls their continued devotion to Jamil Al-Amin, a former Black Panther convicted of murdering a sheriff's deputy.
Many words may be used to describe CAIR, MPAC, and their cohorts. But "moderate" is not among them.