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.
that stands up
is hammered down.
--- Japanese proverb
THE ROOTS OF THE CONTROVERSY
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 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.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama wrote a very optimistic book on
The End of History, which many critics failed to notice was a pun, but
really seemed to suggest that the Wilsonian dream of democracy everywhere
was at hand.
In 1992, Benjamin Barber warned that both `tribalism' and `globalism' were threats
to democracy in his article
Jihad vs. McWorld.
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.
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
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.
While the phrase ``clash of cultures'' seems to have been introduced by
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
an eminent former Cold War hawk, who argued that the West and and Islam were
The Clash of Civilizations, with some ``Confucian'' bias in favor
of the Islamic side.
He later expanded this thesis into
Reviews were mixed.
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:
See blurbs by big guns at
Shahid Alam thought the thesis a bit alarmist and alarming.
The Consul General of France,
puckishly called for a `dialogue' of civilizations.
thinks that we will prevail in the clash.
Robert Kaplan seemed to think that Huntington's thesis would slowly
become accepted by the mainstream.
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
One of Huntington's most prominent critics was
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.
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
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.
Concluding comment on language.
The word ``jihad,'' like the word ``crusade,'' has evolved through
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
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
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''
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.
Since the Romans, there have been Arabs, Turks, Europeans, and even
This little strip of land has two great historical distinctions:
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.
The second point must be remembered when studying the Israel v.
There are a wide range of groups, from pacifist groups with
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.
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
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.
The accusations made against Al-Arian involve a complex situation
with many players.
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
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.
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
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.
Palestinian Paramilitary Groups, from Fatah down to the
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.
The MBS was an international organization, and from it came an
international splinter group.
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
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
The MBS maintained (usually) civil relations with Fatah, but
regarded the rest of the PLO as a bunch of communists,
secularists, and worse.
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.
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
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
During the next year, the Middle East was divided by several
schisms as the coalition led by the USA and the UK easily
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.
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.
Israel and the PA continued negotiations as the PA assumed
But the process was severely damaged by the assassination of
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995, by an
(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.
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.)
For further reading, see:
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...
Ziyad Abu Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank
F. Robert Hunter, The Palestinian Uprising: A War By
Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian
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.
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
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.
The two metropolitan newspapers in the Tampa Bay Area are the
St. Petersburg Times,
whose archives are readily accessible, and the
whose archives charges for each story ... that the engine
For this reason, links to Times stories are given, while the
visitor (with access) is invited to search
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
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
(And the webmaster himself has been at USF since 1986, and remembers some
of these developments.)
Some personal history.
Sami Al-Arian was born to Palestinian refugee parents in Kuwait in
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
(In 1979, he returned to Egypt briefly, and married Nahla Al-Najjar,
with whom he returned to the United States.)
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.
For more information, consult his
vita which he has very kindly permitted us to post.
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
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
He has also won (sometimes with others) over a million dollars
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.
He was granted tenure in 1992, and was promoted to Associate
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
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
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
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.
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,
(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,
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...
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.
Al-Arian has long been politically active: he co-founded
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.
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).
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
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
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
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),
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.)
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.
USF and WISE.
Al-Arian was not the only one with ambitions: USF itself had
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
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
But then, something happened, on November 21, 1994.
Where this was going was soon apparent.
At that time, USF had no experts on Islamic Studies, and tried
a leading scholar now at Georgetown University.
But this was 1992, and the 1992 budget crisis appears prominently
what was going on in Florida,
and the attempt for lack of money.
In 1994, USF tried again, and succeeded in hiring
Meanwhile, USF relied increasingly on cheaper adjuncts.
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,
The Terrorists Among Us,
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 ...
Emerson said that he contacted the FBI and found that
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
Although (he says) he omitted the most inflammatory material, the
material he aired impressed many (and alarmed many others)
the FBI was unaware of the convention and
the FBI couldn't do anything about it anyway,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
USF/WISE Relationship and Related Matters
on May 27, 1996.
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.
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
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
the main report page
to get them).
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
Later that year, a mentally ill honors student, Damian Hospital,
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
But there were few specific accusations.
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 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.
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
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
(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
AI would cite the case as a matter of concern.
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
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
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
He also founded a Terrorism Newswire to disseminate news of his
investigations, and founded a Journal of Counterterrorism and
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
Council on American-Islamic Relations,
he gradually accumulated more critics among leftists and media
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.
He apparently spent ten years working on American Jihad which
is a short and somewhat quick work.
Meanwhile, he became
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 sued Sugg (and also AP reporter Richard Cole, lead author
of Jihad U.S.A., who questioned Emerson's reliability)
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 ... .
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
which claimed that Emerson was guilty of journalistic
ethical lapses, and quoted many leading journalists critical of
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.
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
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
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
And of course, the Weekly Planet remained skeptical of accusations
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
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,
PRIMER was involved relatively early: just after Jihad in
America was broadcast in November, 1994, Gross appeared with
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
February 10, 2000, and on
May 23, 2000.
And his son, Abdullah Al-Arian, born in the U.S.A., worked for
Nevertheless, Al-Arian remained hopeful, and as he later explained to the
St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 11, 2001 was supposed to be a very
President George W. Bush was visiting Florida, and he was scheduled to
make a major policy statement on the use of secret evidence that
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
As November Elections Approach, Arab Americans Poised to Exert Their
Certainly Al-Arian did so, and that has won Bush some ribbing from
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
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
But someone else had other plans ...