Here is what we know about Sami Al-Arian, Judy Genshaft’s least favorite computer science instructor.
The Kuwait-born Palestinian Muslim was a respected, even award-winning, professor with unpopular but constitutionally protected views. Not everyone, for example, agreed that “Death To Israel” was mere rhetorical flourish, but that’s the First Amendment for you.
By all accounts, Al-Arian never brought his polarizing politics into the classroom. Even Jewish students would agree.
He is not a member of al-Qaida.
He founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, an Islamic think tank, at USF. In 1991 he recruited Ramadan Abdullah Shallah to run it. Shallah would later surface in Damascus as the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a by-the-numbers terrorist organization.
Although controversy has been swirling around him for the better part of a decade, he has been convicted of nothing. Sami may be Al-Arrogant and a WISE guy, but that’s not a crime.
But now he’s been charged. Big time.
After an 8-year investigation that was accelerated after the 9/11 atrocities and the Bill O’Reilly ambush, Al-Arian has been indicted. Not for killing anybody, but for a lot of stuff that amounts to helping those who do.
Charges in the 121-page federal indictment include being the North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian is also charged with overseeing PIJ’s property and finances, which included funneling funds used to underwrite, among other things, suicide bombings in Israel. Among the more than 100 victims were two Americans.
In the context of this 50-count indictment, we now know that USF President Genshaft was not exactly running roughshod over academic freedom when she initially wanted to fire Al-Arian. She just made the mistake of citing the wrong reasons. She charged that Al-Arian didn’t make clear whether he was speaking — in inimitably inflammatory fashion — for himself or the university. Moreover, he was a one-man, campus safety hazard.
Such policy-and-procedure rationales made it easier for the faculty union to claim discrimination, and for the American Association of University Professors to try and extort a retraction. They also provoked the union to target neo-McCarthyism as the real enemy. The elbow-patch crowd is always ready to go to the mattresses to defend the right to live in the abstract. But they posted their flag in a cloud. Tenure over national security? Not even close.
Genshaft’s approach was like going after Ted Bundy for jaywalking or suing Joseph Mengele for malpractice. It demeaned the issue. The ultimate American civil liberty is the right to remain alive. Now what, within the law — including the Patriot Act — and parameters of fairness, are we willing to do to ensure it?
In retrospect, Genshaft would have been well within her presidential purview to have simply laid down these criteria for firing a tenured professor with unpopular views: “Anyone who sponsors or hires terrorists or fundraises for them is fired.”
Now that the feds have indicted Al-Arian, it finally happened. Now it’s officially what it’s always been — much more than a fire-able offense.