Saturday, February 22, 2003

Stating the Obvious About Professor Al-Arian

I must say, I'm surprised that there hasn't been more talk about the arrest of Sami Al-Arian in connection with terrorism-related charges.

Atrios says he's a little uncomfortable about his arrest. Andrew Sullivan has taken the opportunity to stick it to swarthy-looking fellows everywhere, just a little. But that's really about it.

This surprises me, as I was waiting for the storm.

For anyone unfamiliar with the situation, Al-Arian's story has been playing out in the media since 9/11. He's been feuding back and forth with the University of South Florida over things he's said in the past ("Death to Israel") and his outspokenly pro-Palestinian views.

Along the way, he's become something of a poster boy for the persecution of Muslim and middle-eastern men, along with both the supporters and the detractors that come with such a position: the Right hounded him for his anti-Israel views, and the Left defended him as the victim of groundless prejudice. A simplification, perhaps, but essentially correct.

Now, however, it seems extremely likely (likely, not certain, because he has not been convicted yet) that Al-Arian is, in fact, a terrorist. And a major one at that.

This should be profoundly disturbing to anyone concerned about the harassment of Muslims in the current climate of terrorism fear.

Let me restate it clearly: The people who harassed this man were right.

Whether or not they did it for all the wrong reasons, in the end, they were right, and this man deserves everything they did to him, and much, much more (again, assuming the charges against him are true).

I have an evil feeling that this is going to make it a lot harder to defend other men who actually are innocent against the reckless charges of bigots and fearmongers.

I am also made extremely uncomfortable by the fact that it's going to be a lot harder to defend academic dissent on college campuses, one of the few places where such dissent can truly flourish and develop.

And all of this ignores all the larger issues about the fact that a major terrorist was operating out of an American university.

Despite the fact that it is good to see a terrorist taken into custody (the real, legal way, with court hearings and everything), this is still extremely bad news.

Update: Todd Morman has pointed out, correctly, the inherant contradictions in this post regarding Al-Arian's guilt. I therefore quote my response (because who actually reads my comments sections?): I'm inhabiting two slightly contradictory positions when it comes to his guilt: I'm being a good Liberal and presuming innocence until proven guilty. However, at the same time, I really don't think the FBI would have moved against him and seven others with so many concrete charges if there wasn't some serious evidence against him. Keep in mind that this is [most likely] not a "Richard Jewel" type smear, as Al-Arian has actually been arrested, charged, and arraigned before a judge(Jewel was only "a prime suspect").

(An additional note: I may be wrong about the arraigned before a judge part- I read that he was scheduled to appear before a judge at 2:30 om EST on Friday, but I can't find the article to back it up...My point still stands, though.)

Update the Second: Man, this was not a very well-worded post. It has been pointed out in Atrios' comments section that I appear to condone the harassment Al-Arian has suffered at the hands of various people over the last two years. When I stated "The people who were harassing him were right," I meant that they were correct in their assumption that he was a terrorist (which was the cause of the harassment), not the harassment itself (again, keeping in mind the caveats about his guilt or innocence).

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