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An Overview of the Entire Controversy
Background: before Sept. 11
The First Year, 2001 - 2002
The Second Year, 2002 - 2003
Recent News: 8/28/02 -
USF in Florida
Al-Arian at USF

Before September 11:

Al Arian in America and USF

Sami Al-Arian has long been a very active and outspoken academic, and the issues he addresses are contentious ones. He has been the target of many accusations, but thus far most accusations have either accused him of engaging in unpleasant but lawful activities, or have accused him of engaging in vague, non-specific, possibly illegal, and thus far unproven activities.

Here is an outline of some of the relevant issues that Al-Arian spoke on: the relationship between the West and the Mid-East, and in particular, the situation in Israel. We also outline some of the material on the terrorists that Al-Arian is accused of having connections to. And we also outline Al-Arian's history, his activities, the local context, and the reactions to his activities.

The nail
that stands up
is hammered down.
--- Japanese proverb


A Clash of Academics

First of all, from a distance the Al-Arian controversy involves how academics and others regard the relationship between the West and the Middle East. When the Cold War ``ended,'' many academics declared victory (and wrangled over prizes) or prognosticated the future. While a few unfashionable pessimists gloomily warned that the Cold War might not be over, most scholars and pundits wrangled over prizes or prognosticated the future. The latter group ranged a broad spectrum:

Globalism and tribalism are ancient worries: one can find corresponding concerns in Pax Romana vs. provincialism, Medieval Christendom vs. loyalty to one's leige lord, world government vs. nationalism, etc. Some of these scholars found specific conflicts to emphasize. With Cold War memories still in mind, some scholars found themselves lining up in old positions taken in new conflicts. Curiously: the `new' conflicts were really very old: just as Medieval Europeans had worried (justifiably!) about Mongols and Turks, so modern pro-Western theoreticians now worried about Asia and Islam.
spacer Islam, the West, and Academia. The Middle East has long been a Western obsession, as can be seen by looking at the silver screen, ranging from the positive (if uneducated) view of Islam in Douglas Fairbank's The Thief of Baghdad to David Lean's romantic view of Arabs in Lawrence of Arabia to the more negative films of the last few decades. As the Cold War waned in the later 1980s, American academics were less concerned about the U.S.S.R., and turned to other concerns --- like the West's dependence on Mideastern Oil, and the West's consequent vulnerability in the numerous Mideastern conflicts.
spacer Complicating all this was the world-wide decline in secular nationalism, and the growth of religion and religious entanglements in politics; many major religions, from Hinduism to Christianity to Judaism to many Native American religions have joined in this trend. In the Mideast, the long era of growing secular nationalism that had marked the careers of leaders from the Turkish leader Mustafa Ataturk to the Egyptian leader Abdel Nasser gave way to a more overtly Islamic politics. All this led many observers to start looking for new conflicts: proposed new opponents for America included Japan, China, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East. While concerns about Middle Eastern or Arab or Islamic relations have worried Americans ever since the 1973 oil crisis (when Saudi Arabia led a boycott of the USA and some European nations to punish them for supporting Israel during the 1973 war), these concerns became a top priority during the 1990s.
spacer While the phrase ``clash of cultures'' seems to have been introduced by Bernard Lewis in his worried but cautious 1990 essay The Roots of Muslim Rage, the scholar most associated with this phrase is probably Harvard University Professor of International and Area Studies Samuel Huntington, an eminent former Cold War hawk, who argued that the West and and Islam were beginning The Clash of Civilizations, with some ``Confucian'' bias in favor of the Islamic side. He later expanded this thesis into a book. Reviews were mixed. For example:
  • See blurbs by big guns at Bookbrowse.
  • Shahid Alam thought the thesis a bit alarmist and alarming.
  • The Consul General of France, Dominique Decherf puckishly called for a `dialogue' of civilizations.
  • Francis Fukuyama thinks that we will prevail in the clash.
  • Robert Kaplan seemed to think that Huntington's thesis would slowly become accepted by the mainstream.
  • Edward Said argued that the abstraction of Westerners vs. Muslims was less helpful than the one of powerful vs. powerless.
  • David Skidmore seemed to think that the thesis was a bit oversimplistic, that `cultures' were not as monolithic as Huntington was implying.
  • One of Huntington's most prominent critics was John Esposito, whose book The Islamic Threat - Myth or Reality? is in part a reaction to the Clash of Civilizations thesis.
  • In an interview with the Guardian on Oct. 21, 2001, Huntington answered his critics.
One of the concerns Americans had was about Middle Eastern terrorism. Terrorists did not target the USA as much as, say, Western Europe, and those terrorists who did target Americans were usually South American. Nevertheless, many observers who foresaw a Clash of Cultures began to foresee terrorist strikes by Middle Easterners against Americans, even in America. And terror did strike:
  • On February 26, 1993, a truck-bomb was detonated in the garage of the World Trade Center. The investigation ultimately led to the conviction of several Middle Eastern activists.
  • On April 19, 1995, a car-bomb was detonated in front of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. While many pundits initially blamed Middle Eastern terrorists, the blame ultimately fell on an all-American dysfunctional loner of a type familiar to students of American psychopathology.

spacer Concluding comment on language. The word ``jihad,'' like the word ``crusade,'' has evolved through the centuries. Most generally, ``jihad'' applies to the effort that each Muslim is supposed to make for the good of the people (s)he deals with, and for society, and for Islam. While no one is expected to correct all the wrongs of society, everyone is expected to attempt to the best of their ability. This effort is seen in a teacher's efforts for her/his students, a doctor's efforts for her/his patients, a mechanic's efforts for her/his customers, etc. This effort/struggle/attempt (the word is not entirely translatable into English) is often called the greater jihad, ``greater'' because it often involves the jihad to transform onesself into a better person. This notion has been formulated to apply to organized activities, and as such has come to mean something like the contemporary meaning of ``crusade'': e.g., the original March of Dimes crusade against polio is recognizably a jihad. This leads to the notion of the lesser jihad, i.e., a military activity proclaimed by some lawful authority. This military activity is supposed to be delimited by certain rules, and the lawful authority empowered to call for a jihad was traditionally supposed to be a caliph (of which there are currently none). There are dubious and dangerous characters who have decreed ``jihads'' against alleged enemies of Islam, just as there are dubious characters who have decreed crusades against alleged enemies of Christianity; most Christians and Muslims do not regard such declarations as legitimate. (This comment reflects mainstream expert opinion: for a dissenting view from one of Al-Arian's critics, see Daniel Pipes' Nov. 2002 article on Jihad and the Professors.)


Israel and Palestine

The strip of land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea is, perhaps appropriately, the northern hinge of the Great Rift that extends down the eastern side of Africa; this groove where two tectonic plates meet is the cradle of humanity, and the northern end, once called ``Canaan,'' was a major crossroad long before ``civilization'' began. The ruins of Jericho are the oldest example of urban society known; and not far away is a major neanderthal site. It is a small territory, about the size and shape of Vermont. Its fortune has been its geography: a agricultural coastal plain (and thanks to modern technology, an agricultural northern checkerboard of valleys), a central spine of low mountains and a southern desert make it one of the geographically diverse locations on Earth. But its location has been its misfortune: situated next to the land bridge from Africa to Asia, with access to ports on two seas, it has always been of great interest to powerful and acquisitive neighbors.

  • There were many peoples there before the ``Canaanites'' who were apparently rebelling against Egypt when Joshua arrived.
  • After Joshua conquered some of it, it was called ``Israel,'' and ultimately became a somewhat cosmopolitan kingdom under David and Solomon. After that, it split into a northern Kingdom of Israel (conquered by Assyria) and a southern Kingdom of Judah (conquered by Babylon).
  • But in this era, Greeks took over much of the coastal plain and set up ``Philistia,'' a name that evolved into ``Palestine,'' the name of the Roman province.
Since the Romans, there have been Arabs, Turks, Europeans, and even stray Mongols. This little strip of land has two great historical distinctions:
  • For its small land area, it is unmatched for its impact on human history, with the possible exception of Greece. Thus while there are several other trouble spots in the Middle East, Israel/Palestine receives a disproportionate amount of media attention both in the West and in the Middle East.
  • Within its small area, it contains a cultural diversity as great as the diversity giants of Russia, America, and India. This is partly due to the immigration of many Jews from around the world during the last few decades. One consequence is that there are a large variety of groups and views.
The second point must be remembered when studying the Israel v. Palestine dispute. There are a wide range of groups, from pacifist groups with representatives on (more than two!) sides, to reconciliation groups, to various schools of hardliners who spend almost as much time squabbling with their competitors a opposing their putative opposition.
spacer Israel v. Palestine. The basis for the tragedy is familiar to all of us, but here is a brief outline, with special attention on those events that led to the Al-Arian episode at USF.
spacer The accusations made against Al-Arian involve a complex situation with many players.
spacer During the Nineteenth century, both Arabs and Jews were inspired by various nationalist movements, and during and after World War I, Great Britain made many promises to both groups, and assumed responsibility for the entire territory, which we can call the British Mandate. In 1937, the Peel Commission decided that the promises were hopelessly inconsistent, and recommended compromise; over the next ten years, no generally acceptable compromise was found, and the problem was dumped in the UN's lap in 1947. The UN ``resolved'' the dispute by partitioning the British Mandate into two territories for two nations, Israel and Palestine. The immediate result was war between Israel and its neighbors (``Palestine'' was immediately absorbed by Israel's neighbors); after Israel won the 1948 war, Israel's relations with its neighbors settled into a cold war, with intermittent hot wars. Meanwhile, between half a million (Israeli estimate) to a million (U.N. estimate) Palestinians who had lived in the Israeli side of the British Mandate became refugees.
  • Many refugees wound up in camps administered by the United Nations in Arab nations. Refugees in camps are usually an intractible problem, and these were no different: Israel and the Arab nations both refused to assimilate them, so after a while there were generations of Palestinians still in these camps, often with problematic access to the outside world.
  • More fortunate refugees found places to live abroad. Many Arab (and Western!) nations had labor shortages, and offered some residency rights to employable refugees. (Such nations often permitted Palestinians to reside so long as they had jobs, and cooperated with authorities in various ways.) However, these refugees have no ``home'' to go to, or ``nation'' to turn to when in trouble, and in most of these nations, children of these refugees are not granted citizenship in the nations where they were born. So again, there can be generations of refugees with problematic ID and no place that they ``came from.'' Sami Al-Arian is the son of two Palestinian refugees, and although he was born in Kuwait, he has no citizenship rights recognized by Kuwait.
Perhaps the most significant subsequent hot war was the 1967 Six Day War, after which Israel occupied the entire British Mandate and the Sinai peninsula. This created a new problem: in occupying territories that it did not annex or even claim, with a population it had not intended to assimilate, Israel found itself holding a tiger by the tail. In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement (the Camp David Agreement), which proposed principles for resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute, and returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt (the treaty was signed in 1979). This treaty was widely denounced in the Middle East, and partly motivated the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
spacer Palestinian Paramilitary Groups, from Fatah down to the PIJ. This brings us to the Palestinians themselves. There are now perhaps a million Palestinians in Gaza, somewhat under twice that in the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and perhaps a comparable number abroad, either in refugee camps or living in foreign nations; a lucky few have become citizens of other nations. Some Palestinians have formed organizations to defend their rights, advance their aspirations, and accomplish their ambitions, by a variety of means. Some of these organizations are violent.
  • Westerners are most familiar with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a ``Palestinian entity'' launched by the Arab League in 1964. While the PLO was initially regarded as an accomadating creature of the Arab League, it did become a sort of umbrella for community activists. In the aftermath of the 1967 war, the PLO had a leadership crisis, and a collection of largely leftist and secular organizations took over; the leading organization was Fatah, a nationalist paramilitary group that jelled around 1960, and in 1969, Fatah's co-founder and leader, Yasir Arafat, became Chairman of the PLO.
  • The PLO assumed a mantle essentially abandoned by the older Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), an Islam fundamentalist organization founded in Egypt that had extended its influence into Palestine in the 1930s. The MBS had fielded 1,500 volunteers against Israel in the 1948 war, but decided after Israel's victory to concentrate on education and religion. The MBS built mosques, schools, and health centers, while providing charity and services. Israel did not feel threatened by this, and tolerated MBS activities in the Occupied territories after the 1967 war (which led to accusations that the MBS was getting Israeli support). The MBS maintained (usually) civil relations with Fatah, but regarded the rest of the PLO as a bunch of communists, secularists, and worse.
The MBS was an international organization, and from it came an international splinter group.
  • The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was founded by Fathi Shikaki and 'Abdal-'Aziz 'Auda in 1980 as a sort of activist outgrowth and reaction to the MBS. Like the MBS, it is Islamic fundamentalist, and thus anti-PLO except for occasional toleration of Fatah. Its older Egyptian counterpart assassinated Sadat, and the PIJ staged several similar actions during the 1980s. Unlike the MBS, the PIJ is not interested in mosques, schools, charities ... and is not as popular as the MBS.

spacer The Intifada. Meanwhile, Israeli-Palestinian relations deteriorated until, in December, 1987, a traffic accident sparked the sequence of increasingly violent demonstrations known as the Intifada (literally ``shaking off'').
  • Palestinians abroad were swept up in the Intifada, holding rallies and calling for support. Many incendiary things were said, but Arafat recognized Israel's right to exist -- and declared independence for Palestine.
  • The MBS quickly leaped on the bandwagon, forming an Islamic Resistance Movement (in Arabic, Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah, or HAMAS for short) to take direct action. So did the PLO, which created a committee. The PIJ took increasingly direct action, irritating the MBS, which started accusing the PIJ of being Shi'ite, pro-Iranian, pro-communist, etc., etc.
  • In Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The PLO openly supported Iraq, irritating Saudi Arabia and gulf states into cutting off funding and repressing Palestinian residents. During the next year, the Middle East was divided by several schisms as the coalition led by the USA and the UK easily defeated Iraq. While coalition casualties were very light, Iraqi casualties were very heavy: the June 4, 1991 New York Times reported that the Defense Department estimated that 100,000 Iraqis were killed and 300,000 injured. While most Americans were unaware of the scale of the losses, much of the Middle East remained very aware of them.

spacer After the Intifada. Over the next few years, extensive diplomacy, especially the 1993 Oslo negotiations (producing a Declaration of Principles sealed on Sept. 13, 1993, at the White House) led to the end of the Intifada and the legal appearance of a Palestinian Authority, under Yasir Arafat, on July 1, 1994, much to the irritation of extremists and pessimists of all loyalties.
  • On Jan. 24, 1995, in what he said was a reaction to terrorism, President Clinton froze the US-held assets of twelve Middle Eastern organizations, including HAMAS and the PIJ. Altogether, $ 800,000 in identifiable accounts. On Jan. 30, the London Independent reported that Fathi Shikaki said that the PIJ had no assets in the USA to freeze, and that ``We never received any donations from the US.'' Shikaki also claimed that Syria gave ``no material support'' to the PIJ , and claimed that Iranian support was ``very limited.''
  • U.S. officials (apparently) said otherwise. In the the May 22, 1997 AP series Jihad U.S.A. by Richard Cole, donations, fraud, drug traffic are described as sources of funds for some terrorist organizations. But there are complications: some organizations (like HAMAS) use a lot of their funding for genuine charities, and some (like WISE and IIIT; see below) are merely suspected of improper behavior: to quote Cole: ``frustrated Customs investigators have failed to find a shred of evidence that WISE or its top officials did anything illegal.'' (Cole relied on some material from freelance journalist Steven Emerson for this article, which would lead to legal complications described below.)
Israel and the PA continued negotiations as the PA assumed governmental responsibilities. But the process was severely damaged by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995, by an Israeli fanatic. (Nine days before, PIJ co-founder Fathi Shikaki was assassinated, allegedly by Israeli agents. His successor would be a former USF adjunct...) Since then, the sitauation has been less hopeful, and in October, 2000, what the PIJ calls a Second Intifada began, and has continued ever since.
spacer For further reading, see:
  • Ziyad Abu Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • F. Robert Hunter, The Palestinian Uprising: A War By Other Means.
  • Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Clearly, the Middle East is an important part of the world, and USF, as a major research university, should have scholars with expertise on these issues. This includes scholars with particular expertise in Islam...
  • Editorial comment to keep in mind while evaluating the plausibility of various experts on terrorism: Abu Amr (see ref. above) says that the PIJ's organizational structure was cellular, with most of its members coming from the lower class. The cellular structure has long been a favorite among cabals, and it works like this. The membership is divided into cells of 2-10 members each, with a leader reporting to a higher level cell, and members being leaders of other lower level or equal level cells. The point is: a member of a cabal knows only the members of the cell or cells to which he belongs, and thus can betray only a small number of people. Successful cabals that value public relations may produce handouts, pamphlets, books, audio & visual tapes, CDs, and roving websites, but if they are to prevent penetration, their operations section will not be accessible via any of their propaganda.
Warning: one complication in researching this organization is that there are several other organizations that call themselves ``Islamic jihad,'' most notoriously the Islamic Jihad Organization (or al-Aqsa Brigade) associated with ... believe it or not ... Fatah.




NOTE: The two metropolitan newspapers in the Tampa Bay Area are the St. Petersburg Times, whose archives are readily accessible, and the Tampa Tribune, whose archives charges for each story ... that the engine can find. For this reason, links to Times stories are given, while the visitor (with access) is invited to search Lexis-Nexis for the Tribune stories. The webmaster apologizes for the inconvenience.

A Nail Stands Up

There are few contemporary sources on USF's initiatives into Islamic studies prior to 1994, and of Al-Arian's related activities then. The Primary source for this section is the Report to President Betty Castor: University of South Florida in re USF/WISE Relationship and Related Matters (the USF/WISE report), presented in 1996 by William Reece Smith. Some newspaper and magazine retrospectives (published later) have also been used, as well as material derived from interviews with Professor Al-Arian. (And the webmaster himself has been at USF since 1986, and remembers some of these developments.)
spacer Some personal history. Sami Al-Arian was born to Palestinian refugee parents in Kuwait in 1958. His parents were legal residents, but as people without a legal country, their children were not granted Kuwaiti citizenship. His father was fired from his job in 1966, and since legal residence was contingent on employment, they had to leave; they moved to Egypt in 1966, and lived in Cairo. In 1975, he went to Southern Illinois University, and he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Sciences and Systems Engineering, and then went on to study computer engineering at North Carolina State University, which granted him a M.S. in 1980 and a Ph.D. in computer engineering in 1986 (he completed his thesis on computer design and testing in 1985). (In 1979, he returned to Egypt briefly, and married Nahla Al-Najjar, with whom he returned to the United States.)
spacer He was hired by the USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering in 1986, as a (tenure-track) Assistant Professor; where he worked on digital systems and microcomputer-based design, testing and fault-tolerant computing, computer architecture, and VLSI/WSI systems.

  • As of 2002, he has published 46 papers. (Typically, academic computer science/engineering researchers and technologists publish few -- if any -- books, and about 1 - 4 papers a year.) Most of these papers were presented at conferences organized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), one of the two premier organizations for computer engineers. (Computer science, like many engineering fields, is increasingly dominated by these refereed conferences because papers are published much more rapidly in conference proceedings than in journals.) He has also won (sometimes with others) over a million dollars in grants.
  • He won a good reputation as a teacher, winning the USF College of Engineering Outstanding Teaching Award in 1993 (with a bonus), and a Teaching Incentive Program (TIP) award (which had a substantial raise) in 1994.
  • And (academics value but do not reward this) he has served in a number of administrative committees for USF and IEEE.
For more information, consult his vita which he has very kindly permitted us to post.
spacer He was granted tenure in 1992, and was promoted to Associate Professor.
  • Dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) can be a protracted process. In December, 1993, Al-Arian applied for citizenship, and by September, 1994, he had passed the citizenship exam and his application had been accepted; all that was left was the swearing in. When asked to register to vote, Al-Arian believed that he was then entitled to vote as a citizen, and he registered and voted in the Fall, 1994 election. However, an applicant is not a citizen until sworn in, so the application began to fall apart. In October, 1995, Al-Arian sued for citizenship, noting that the INS is required to act within 120 days of the application (i.e., of December, 1993). In December, 1995, the INS reopened his application because of the 1994 vote, but the State Attorney declined to prosecute. In February, 1996, the INS sent Al-Arian a letter reversing its approval of his application (see the Oct. 3, 1996 Tampa Tribune article "Citizenship denied for USF professor" on lexis-nexis), and he appealed the decision; the appeal was heard in March, 1997, and a ruling was due in 30 days; the INS is still cogitating on that issue. Meanwhile, Al-Arian's lawsuit was dismissed in October, 1996, saying that the INS's actions had rendered the case moot. By the way, his wife Nahla Al-Arian, and their five children, are all US citizens.
It should be noted that by all accounts, Al-Arian kept his computer engineering separate from his extracurricular activities, and in particular, did not discuss politics in class.
spacer Mazen Al-Najjar. Al-Arian's brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar has endured the greatest travail in this dispute. Al-Najjar was born in Gaza, and received a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cairo in 1979. Al-Najjar entered the USA on a student visa in 1981, when he went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, and soon married an American citizen. The marriage fell apart, and during the collapse, the INS conjectured that the marriage had been a sham for getting a green card. Several times since then he tried to repair his visa status, without success. (He married again, and his three children are American citizens; his wife now faces deportation.) Meanwhile, he entered USF's Industrial Engineering and Management Program, and got his PhD in Industrial Management and Engineering in May, 1994. And during the late 1980s, as Al-Arian started organizing many organizations and events, Al-Najjar assisted with the administrative work. Meanwhile, he taught Arabic at USF. This was not a problem while he was a student on a student visa, but once he got his PhD, he would need different paperwork to be able to get paid for teaching Arabic. Instructors in Arabic being scarce or expensive, USF looked into the problem in 1994 (while USF and WISE finessed the salary problem in 1995), which brought his case to the renewed attention of the INS...
spacer Editorial comment: Notice that these application and visa complications are things that the INS deals with often, albeit not necessarily very well, but usually without much publicity.
spacer Standing up. Al-Arian has long been politically active: he co-founded the Islamic Association for Palestine in the early 1980s, but left because ``it was increasingly more partisan and sectarian.'' After the Intifada started in December, 1987, he started founding a number of organizations, and attending a number of conferences and similar events.
  • In 1988, he founded an Islamic Concern Project, which was to serve as an umbrella for several organizations, one of which was the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP). The ICP was to provide a forum for scholars (the Project published a magazine), and it ran conferences every December, from 1988 to 1992, as long as the Intifada ran. At the first conference, Al-Arian, Al-Najjar, and one Basheer Nafi began working on the concept that became the WISE institute .
  • The World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) was originally envisioned as a think tank in the D.C.-area, with a budget of perhaps half a million dollars a year, much of that from Middle Eastern sources. But the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and the consequent Arab antagonism towards Palestinians forced Al-Arian and co-founders to downscale the institute to an office just off of USF. Running at $ 100,000 to $ 150,000 annually, mostly from Middle Eastern sources (later a substantial portion via the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) --- see one of their old pamphlets (in pdf, top of file)), it had a director, one or two staff, and published a journal while organizing (and raising funds for) conferences. (This is a separate journal, and different conferences, than those associated with the ICP). The first director was Khalil Ibrahim Shikaki (vita in pdf at bottom of file), an eminent and respectable scholar, momentarily banned from the Occupied Territories ... and brother of Fathi Shikaki, the founder of the PIJ. (This relationship was known to many scholars, who respected K. Shikaki, and claimed that he was trustworthy.)
Al-Arian also founded a mosque, and the Islamic Academy of Florida, the latter a private day school half a mile from USF. More recently, he has been involved in the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality (HOPE).
spacer While he was setting up these organizations, the Intifada was going on, and as remarked above, there were many rallies in the United States, where people said incendiary things, especially after the invasion of Kuwait and the build-up of US and UK forces, the war itself, and the aftermath. Al-Arian attended some of these rallies, some of which were videotaped, and the result are two tapes of Al-Arian saying, ``Death to Israel,'' etc. Al-Arian would later say that he meant death to Israeli oppression, and Middle East Studies scholars would note that this sort of hyperbole is common in the Middle East. Nevertheless, many Americans would find this kind of talk disconcerting (while typically American civil libertarians would note that this kind of talk is protected speech). These few words on tape, more than anything else, would be the albatross around Al-Arian's neck. Pundits might argue about allegations of misconduct or crimes, but most people were simply outraged by what Al-Arian said while Israel/ Palestine tottered on the brink of civil war.
spacer USF and WISE. Al-Arian was not the only one with ambitions: USF itself had ambitions. There were a growing number of Muslims in the Tampa Bay area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a growing recognition of the importance of the Middle East in a post-Cold-War world. USF President Francis Borkowski had vowed to make USF one of the top 25 public universities in the nation by 2001. So when Borkowski appointed a USF Planning Commission in 1989 (on Shaping Our Future), of course this would lead to a Proposal for the Establishment of a Center for Middle Eastern Studies (in pdf, towards end of file). On January 29, 1991, Provost Gerhard Meisels appointed a Committee on Middle Eastern Studies (COMES), dominated by members of the Department of Government and International Affiars to create something. During 1991, COMES and WISE discovered each other, and after some discussions, they set up a joint conference in December; on March 11, 1992, USF and WISE set up a formal relationship.
  • Where this was going was soon apparent. At that time, USF had no experts on Islamic Studies, and tried to hire John Esposito, a leading scholar now at Georgetown University. But this was 1992, and the 1992 budget crisis appears prominently in what was going on in Florida, and the attempt for lack of money. In 1994, USF tried again, and succeeded in hiring Tamara Sonn. Meanwhile, USF relied increasingly on cheaper adjuncts.
From 1990 to 1995, WISE published its journal, while running conferences (some jointly with USF). It seemed that despite USF's lack of resources, something like a Center for Middle Eastern Studies might come into existence at USF. But then, something happened, on November 21, 1994.


The Hammer Descending

It starts with Steven Emerson, the author or co-author of a sequence of investigative books: Lights Out at DOE: How Reagan Has Put America in the Dark about Energy (1984), The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar (1985), Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era (1988), The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation (1990), and Terrorist: The Inside Story of the Highest-Ranking Iraqi Terrorist Ever to Defect to the West (1991). In December, 1992, while and stuck in Oklahoma City, he stumbled across a meeting of the ``Muslim Arab Youth Association'' (MAYA), and despite a warning that non-Muslims were not welcome, he slipped in and, as he recounts in his recent book, American Jihad: The Terrorists Among Us,
spacer It was a shocking experience ... I was horrified to witness a long procession of speakers ... taking turns preaching violence and urging the assembly to use jihad against the Jews and the West ... spacer

Emerson said that he contacted the FBI and found that

  • the FBI was unaware of the convention and
  • the FBI couldn't do anything about it anyway,
much to the apparent disgust of his FBI sources. He continued collecting material from and on such intifada-era rallies and recorded many incendiary speeches; he collected inflammatory pamphlets and books, and noted hyperbolic remarks about assisting the cause by fund-raising, although ``I didn't know whether it was all rhetoric or whether there was really substance to all this.'' After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Emerson pitched a video project to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and left CNN to work full-time investigating ``terrorist networks in the United States.'' He bought paramilitary training films at a Yemeni grocery store in Brooklyn, he visited a mosque in Bridgeview whose library was ``filled with militant terrorist videos and books,'' and he publicized his efforts. By 1994, Emerson was increasingly quoted as a terrorism expert, especially on Middle Eastern terrorism. On November 21, 1994, his PBS production Jihad in America aired nationwide. Although (he says) he omitted the most inflammatory material, the material he aired impressed many (and alarmed many others) nationwide.
  • Jihad in America consisted of several stories cobbled together, and featured several prominent Muslims, including leaders of foreign paramilitary and ``extremist'' organizations, saying alarming things during the Intifada (although Emerson never mentioned the Intifada). Even though the word ``jihad'' was used in the video, Emerson does not attempt to explain the word. Although Emerson claimed that some of the clips shown were ``training'' materials, much of it is evidently publicity material. And turning to Al-Arian, one of the organizations mentioned was the ICP, which Emerson said was the primary support group for ``Islamic Jihad'' in the US.
There were negative reactions, especially in Tampa: the Nov. 23 Tampa Tribune reported that Al-Arian said that the production was ``a deliberate attempt to defame and distort the cause of Muslim organizations in the United States.'' Nevertheless, the production won the prestigious George Polk Award. And on Feb. 23, 1995, the FBI contacted the campus police: the FBI was interested in Al-Arian, Al-Najjar, and one Ramadan Abdullah (described below), but mostly in Al-Arian.
spacer The Tampa Tribune's investigative reporter Michael Fechter spent several months following up on the story, and on May 28, 29, 1995 a two-part story on Ties to Terrorists generated a lot of local media attention.
  • On May 28, Fechter reported that many activists known or suspected of being involved with HAMAS and the PIJ appeared at ICP meetings, and contended that charitable donations collected at ICP meetings may have been diverted to support terrorist activities. Fechter stated that Emerson had copies of checks from the ICP to unnamed charities which Emerson claimed funded terrorists. Emerson was cited saying that ICP's own publications were the most compelling proof of ICP's involvement with the PIJ, stating that one of the publications reflected the PIJ's point of view.
  • The Tampa Tribune followed up with many subsequent articles, but the St. Petersburg Times waited until July 2 to enter with a more retrospective article Freedom of Speech With Strings Attached: A provocative set of charges at USF, which was openly skeptical of the accusations.
And then, as mentioned in a previous section, Fathi Shikaki was assassinated in Malta on Oct. 6, 1995. And that brings us to an economist on the WISE staff.
  • Ramadan Abdullah Shallah was born 1958 in Gaza, and in the 1970s went to Zikazak University in Cairo, Egypt, where he apparently met Fathi Shikaki. He studied economics, and then returned to Gaza where he taught until 1986, when he went to England (he ultimately got a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Durham in 1990). He came to the United States, and joined the WISE staff in 1991, under the name ``Ramadan Abdullah,'' which is the name he used at USF (except on employment forms!?). Shallah started teaching at USF in Spring, 1994, and his teaching performance in 1994 was regarded as satisfactory. In Spring, 1995, his teaching performance deteriorated: there were complaints bias and mechanical problems (e.g., tardiness), and a decision not to rehire him was rendered moot that Summer when he announced that he was returning to Gaza to care for a dying father and to write a book. No one heard from him or about him until Oct. 28, three weeks after Fathi Shikaki was assassinated, when pamphlets appeared in the Occupied Territories announcing that Shallah was the new secretary-general of the PIJ, and after his Oct. 30 TV appearance in Damascus, Shallah was quickly identified as USF's Ramadan Abdullah. This surprised both USF people who had not taken Abdullah to be any kind of radical, and observers who wondered how a ``business professor'' would run the PIJ. And Emerson felt vindicated.
That did it. In November, 1995, the FBI publicized its investigation of WISE, searched the WISE/ICP office, and Al-Arian's campus office and home, carting off some fifty boxes of documents and other materials. The FBI has held onto this evidence, resisting all attempts by outsiders to review it, while contending that its investigation was continuing --- and it continues even now.
spacer The USF/WISE report. Returning to USF news, on June 2, 1995, less than a week after Fechter's expose of WISE, USF suspended its relationship with WISE. USF administrators met with local pressure groups, contacted intelligence sources, and even spoke with faculty. On May 23, 1995, the USF Inspector General J. Michael Pepper submitted a brief report on USF's financial relation with WISE: Pepper was concerned about the way USF and WISE had finessed Al-Najjar's salary (see above) that Spring. In January, 1996, USF President Betty Castor asked former USF interim President William Reece Smith, Jr., a major figure in the Florida State Bar to ``conduct an independent, external investigation of events revealed by, and related to ... [media reports] that a University professor [Al-Arian] was associated with Middle East terrorist activities and that a University entity [COMES] was connected to an off-campus organization [WISE] which was, in turn also allegedly linked with Middle East terrorism.'' Mr Smith, who did not speak to Al-Arian or Al-Najjar because both were involved in litigation, submitted his Report to President Betty Castor: University of South Florida in re USF/WISE Relationship and Related Matters on May 27, 1996.
  • The first section of the report presented an extensive history of Al-Arian, WISE, and their activities, and has been used extensively on this page.
  • Smith's concerns were necessarily legalistic, and the second section of the report enumerated them from a lawyer's point of view. Thus while he expressed a need for a balanced curriculum, he did not explore the dynamics (and constraints) that could lead to an ``unbalanced'' curriculum. In general, he concluded that USF had acted lawfully and met its ethical obligations in dealing with WISE, but that, in hindsight, some of USF's actions may have been imprudent. And other than the finessing of Al-Najjar's salary in 1995, Smith had no complaints (within the parameters of his mission).
  • There were 18 appendices, which were broken into an additional five sections (go to the main report page to get them).
On May 30, both the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune ran straight news stories on the report. On May 31, the Tampa Tribune published an editorial on ``A not-so-WISE report at USF.'' On June 6, the St. Petersburg Times published a retrospective on Why USF's crisis got out of hand.
  • One odd sideshow was a threat received by the USF Oracle in March, 1996, threatening to bomb a USF building, kill one female professor, and plant one fake bomb, all on April 19. The author claimed connections to Palestinian terrorists. Since April 19 was at the end of the semester, USF resolved the problem by ending the semester a week early (the webmaster distinctly remembers suggestions that this was the actual motivation). Later that year, a mentally ill honors student, Damian Hospital, was arrested, and pled guilty, and in 1997, was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay a fine, as reported in the March 1, 1997 St. Petersburg Times.



In the years since, a drama has continued to unfold. With WISE's files locked up by the FBI, there was no way for accusations (at least specific accusations) to be substantiated or refuted. But there were few specific accusations.
spacer Mazen Al-Najjar, Continued. On July 18, Mazen Al-Najjar went to an
INS hearing where INS agent William West contended that Al-Najjar helped supply funds for organizations like the PIJ. As reported on Oct. 6, 8, 9, 10 in the Tampa Tribune, the INS asserted that Al-Najjar's first marriage had been fraudulent, and that, together with alleged financial misconduct at WISE, made Al-Najjar subject to deportation (and the INS was also going after Al-Najjar's second wife, Fedaa). The stakes were higher, for unlike Nafi, Al-Najjar had no legal home country to be deported to. Nevertheless, on May 13, 1997, Immigration Judge J. Daniel Dowell ordered Mazen and Fedaa Al-Najjar deported, in Mazen's case because, according to INS calculations, he had overstayed his visa by ten years. On May 19, 1997, Mazen Al-Najjar was arrested.

  • On June 6, 1997, Al-Najjar's case was heard before U.S. Immigration Judge Kevin McHugh, who had told defense counsel that he had been presented with secret evidence that Al-Najjar was a security risk. Al-Najjar's lawyers were not permitted to examine the evidence, nor hear what sort of ``risk'' their client was supposed to pose. They called former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who warned, ``I would be very much concerned about the reliability ... There is information that can readily be determined to be someone's prejudice, someone's lies ...'' Nevertheless, McHugh ordered Al-Najjar held without bond. (Both the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune published accounts of this hearing on June 7, but the most accessible posting of either is on Lexis-Nexis.)
  • Thus began three years and seven months of a situation described on the March 22, 1998 by Miami Herald Martin Merzer in his story The Secret War, as ``Charges: unknown. Accusers: anonymous. Evidence: secret. Sentence: indeterminate.'' According to Merzer, ``the judge said it [the secret evidence] consisted of one or two pieces of paper and he needed help comprehending it.'' (This was only one of several cases in which secret evidence was used to justify indefinite detention of non-citizens.) In order to get out of detention, Al-Najjar's family tried to find a nation that would accept him, without success. The Times and the Tribune began running editorials condemning the indefinite detention of prospective deportees (as did many other newspapers). For over three years, Al-Najjar was the subject of a proxy battle over his brother-in-law. In July, 2000, Amnesty International said that Al-Najjar was a prisoner of conscience, and in its Report 2001, AI would cite the case as a matter of concern.
On May 31, 2000, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard ruled that Al-Najjar's rights were violated by being detained without given the right to defend himself against whatever case the secret evidence suggested. She wrote, ``Association is not a reasonable foundation for the immigration judge's decision to deny bond and continue to detain (him) as a threat to national security.'' The case was sent back to Immigration Judge McHugh. The next few months were but the lull before the storm, for after Sept. 11, 2001, on Nov. 24, 2001, Al-Najjar was rearrested suddenly, again for national security concerns based on secret evidence, and this time he would be placed in solitary confinement.
spacer The Media Themselves: Emerson. The reader may have noticed that in this case, there is a tendency for the media (and the combatants) to lead, and officialdom to follow. Perhaps this is how the controversy itself started becoming the story, and the most spectacular figure in the story was Steven Emerson. Soon after Jihad in America, Emerson launched an Investigative Project which continued his investigations into terrorism (or, perhaps more precisely, the public relations of terrorism), which he described in his 2002 book American Jihad as the maintenance of many subscriptions, the purchase of many videos, the collection of many audio tapes, to the point that ``...our electronic library is probably the most comprehensive in the world.'' But (he continues in his book) the FBI and the State Department warned him of an assassination team sent to hit him, and he started living in a secret location, under high security, but continued his investigations. He also founded a Terrorism Newswire to disseminate news of his investigations, and founded a Journal of Counterterrorism and Security International.
  • He apparently spent ten years working on American Jihad which is a short and somewhat quick work. Meanwhile, he became a celebrity, a much-sought, widely quoted, and mediagenic expert on terrorism: on May 23, 2000, he made a long presentation to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, defending the use of secret evidence. And he remained interested in Al-Arian, revisiting Tampa several times to denounce his old target for allegedly fundraising for terrorists and allegedly helping terrorists into the USA. Much to his surprise, this won him some determined critics.
Emerson had been one of the commentators who had connected the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to Middle Eastern terrorists, and when Timothy McVeigh was arrested (tried & convicted), Emerson suffered a loss of credibility. A sequence of similar if less dramatic episodes led to him being dropped as an expert by both the Associated Press and National Public Radio, much to the disgust of his growing crowd of admirers (many on the political right). So while his first critics were predictable ones, like spokesmen for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, he gradually accumulated more critics among leftists and media critics. But his most resolute critic was an investigative reporter for the alternative entertainment weekly for the Tampa Bay area, The Weekly Planet, John Sugg, a perennially grumpy critic of mainstream media, who wrote a sequence of exposes of Emerson.
  • One of the more comprehensive articles of 1998-1999 was the one appearing in the January/February 1999 issue Extra, the newsletter of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog, on Steven Emerson's Crusade: Why is a journalist pushing questionable stories from behind the scenes? which claimed that Emerson was guilty of journalistic ethical lapses, and quoted many leading journalists critical of Emerson's work. Sugg quoted reporters suggesting that Emerson had misrepresented documents supplied to other reporters. The May 1998 article by the Weekly Planet also contradicted several points of Emerson's story about the hit squad sent to kill him.
Emerson sued Sugg (and also AP reporter Richard Cole, lead author of Jihad U.S.A., who questioned Emerson's reliability) for libel. On March 24, 2000, CAIR cheerfully noted that Court Rules Against Steven Emerson in Defamation Suit, although on April 3, Terrorism Newswire resolutely reported that ``Journalist Steven Emerson to Move Forward With His Lawsuits,'' by changing the venue. On Feb. 9, 2001, Hillsborough Circuit Judge James Barton II threw out some of the suit, but the rest of it continues and continues ... .
spacer The Media Themselves: More locally. While controversy swirled around Emerson, The Tampa Tribune was having problems of its own. Ties to Terrorists was criticized because of what some regarded as a credulous approach to evidence presented by Emerson, and others complained of an anti-Muslim bias in its coverage. In particular, critics complained that the articles described many activists as PIJ members or associates without sufficient evidence; thus while Al-Arian is described as having many contacts with terrorists, critics said that Al-Arian actually had many contacts with activists. (An early criticism is the Jan. 11, 1996 St. Petersburg Times article.) After Mazen Al-Najjar got in court (see below), temperatures rose, and Fechter responded to the criticism in his Oct. 12, 1997 opinion piece, in the Tribune, ``Due process; It is the American rule of law, in fact, that grants suspected terrorist Mazen Al-Najjar the right ot appeal his deportation - an order based not on secret testimony but upon facts documented in open court records.'' Contending that sufficient evidence against Al-Najjar had already been made public, Fechter wrote: ``The frustration shared by Al-Najjar's family and friends is understandable. So is the desire to blame others for a problem. But they ignore salient facts in doing so and sink into obfuscation and intellectual dishonesty.'' The Tribune posted the articles on a special web-page (since removed), and faced recurrent complaints over the years about anti-Muslim bias.
  • Meanwhile, from the other end of the controversy, many were convinced that the criticism of Emerson et al was at least nit-picking, or even evasion of the issue of what had gone on in WISE. Perhaps the most prominent of these in the Tampa Bay area was Norman Gross, founder of Promoting Responsibility In Middle East Reporting. PRIMER was founded in 1994, after a media flurry over the disproportionate number of hate crimes in the Tampa Bay area. PRIMER is, according to its mission statement, most interested in Islamic militancy as a source of the problem, and thus directs most of its attention to influencing the media's reports on, and politician's actions regarding, Israeli-Palestinian relations. PRIMER was involved relatively early: just after Jihad in America was broadcast in November, 1994, Gross appeared with Al-Arian and newly hired USF Professor Tamara Sonn (USF's sole permanent Islam expert) on a TV panel follow-up. PRIMER has been very attentive, and outspoken, ever since.
And of course, the Weekly Planet remained skeptical of accusations against Al-Arian.
spacer Al-Arian and USF. But what of Al-Arian since 1994? He went on sabbatical during the academic year 1995-1996, and then was put on paid leave (in May, 1996, just after the bomb threat), and remained on leave until 1998. Meanwhile, he remained active and outspoken, although after his brother-in-law was detained, he started turning more towards civil liberties issues, being active in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), while founding the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace (TBCJP), an affiliate of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF), which Al-Arian also helped organize.
  • One issue in which Al-Arian is especially active is the use of secret evidence in INS proceedings. The use of secret evidence is very controversial because it appears to violate the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (although the courts have held that as INS proceedings are not criminal trials, they are still leery of it). Nevertheless, the practice disturbs many, and Al-Arian has many fellows in his campaign against the use of secret evidence, including Michigan Congressman David Bonior, who helped pressure Janet Reno into releasing Al-Najjar in 2000, and who has lobbied Bush to stop using secret evidence. In addition, Al-Arian's family has also become active. His wife, Nahla Al-Arian, Mazen Al-Najjar's sister, testified against the use of secret evidence before the House Judiciary Committee on February 10, 2000, and on May 23, 2000. And his son, Abdullah Al-Arian, born in the U.S.A., worked for Bonior.
Meanwhile, the FBI seems to have successfully destroyed WISE and the ICP, which disappeared in 1995. The late 1990s were a long stretch of lean years for the Florida State University System: while the economy boomed, USF's funding remained flat. Facing heavy criticism on all sides on the Al-Arian issue, the Administration found that it had better uses for its money than setting up a Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and COMES gradually faded away. Tamara Sonn also left for the College of William and Mary, where she sits on the BOard of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy; with her departure, there were again no experts on Islamic studies at USF.
  • During the 2000 campaign, many Arab Americans supported Bush because of his more sympathetic public statements on several issues, including the use of secret evidence in INS proceedings (see, e.g., the May 2000 Congress Watch in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, As November Elections Approach, Arab Americans Poised to Exert Their Influence). Certainly Al-Arian did so, and that has won Bush some ribbing from BushNews. At the election, about 80 % of American Muslims voted for Bush ( apparently 90 % of Florida Muslims did so). But Bush did not follow through after the election, and his Administration gave a number of signals that it was not friendly to American Muslims. One of those signals occurred on June 28, 2001, when a delegation including Al-Arian's son Abdullah (a native-born American citizen) was scheduled to meet with White House officials at the Old Executive Office Building; Abdullah was ordered to leave without explanation, and the rest of the delegation angrily left with him (the Secret Service later pled confusion, and President Bush sent a letter of apology).
Nevertheless, Al-Arian remained hopeful, and as he later explained to the St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 11, 2001 was supposed to be a very good day. President George W. Bush was visiting Florida, and he was scheduled to make a major policy statement on the use of secret evidence that afternoon.
spacer But someone else had other plans ...

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