April 20, 2006
After years of denial, Sami Al-Arian has finally admitted it: he has pleaded guilty to a charge of “conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds to or for the benefit of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist” organization. He has agreed to accept deportation. In his 2002 defense of Al-Arian, Eric Boehlert wrote: “The al-Arian story reveals what happens when journalists, abandoning their role as unbiased observers, lead an ignorant, alarmist crusade against suspicious foreigners who in a time of war don't have the power of the press or public sympathy to fight back.” Reality is just the opposite. The al-Arian story reveals what happens when journalists and Leftist academics, abandoning their role as unbiased observers, lead an ignorant, alarmist crusade against Americans who in a time of war try to defend our country from those whose politics make them the darlings of the Leftist media and academic establishment.
Al-Arian’s guilty plea is a dizzying turnaround from last December 6, when the former University of South Florida professor was acquitted on eight of seventeen terror-related charges. At that time, Linda Moreno, an attorney for Al-Arian, exulted: “This was a political prosecution from the start, and I think the jury realized that.” The acquittal appeared to vindicate the many journalists and academics who had maintained Al-Arian’s innocence for so long. Chief among them was Boehlert, whose January 2002 article was entitled “The prime-time smearing of Sami Al-Arian: By pandering to anti-Arab hysteria, NBC, Fox News, Media General and Clear Channel radio disgraced themselves -- and ruined an innocent professor’s life.” Then there was John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and author of numerous apologetic books about Islam. In a letter to Dr. Judy Genshaft, President of the University of South Florida, after she fired Al-Arian, Esposito reminded her that “the University did a thorough independent review several years ago which found no merit in accusations made at that time” and worried that Al-Arian was merely falling victim to “anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times also likely felt vindicated. In March 2002 he went to bat for Al-Arian, portraying him as a Gandhi behind bars, a victimized absent-minded professor: “The point is not whether one agrees with Professor Al-Arian, a rumpled academic with a salt-and-pepper beard who is harshly critical of Israel (and also of repressive Arab countries) — but who also denounces terrorism, promotes inter-faith services with Jews and Christians, and led students at his Islamic school to a memorial service after 9/11 where they all sang ‘God Bless America.’ No, the larger point is that a university, even a country, becomes sterile when people are too intimidated to say things out of the mainstream.” Al-Arian’s detractors, not his defenders, were the ones who were supposed to be intimidated into silence.
Will Kristof now apologize? Will Boehlert? Esposito? Al-Arian’s attorney Linda Moreno, who was so quick in December to charge the government with political motives in prosecuting Al-Arian, on February 28 signed Al-Arian’s plea agreement. The agreement leaves no room for doubt: “Defendant is pleading guilty because defendant is in fact guilty. The defendant certifies that the defendant does hereby admit that the facts set forth below [in the plea agreement] are true, and were this case to go to trial, the United States would be able to prove those specific facts and others beyond a reasonable doubt.” What’s more, Al-Arian acknowledged that he was “pleading guilty freely and voluntarily…and without threats, force, intimidation, or coercion of any kind.” But in speaking to reporters after Al-Arian signed the agreement, Moreno acknowledged only that “In the agreement, he did not plead guilty to any crime of violence, and by pleading he gave his family closure in this ordeal.”
What of Al-Arian’s myriad other defenders? Some backpedaling and track-covering has already begun. At the Free Sami Al-Arian website, statements made in Al-Arian’s defense by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, readable as late as Tuesday morning, are no longer accessible. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), however, was ready to concede nothing. CAIR-Florida’s Ahmed Bedier, in flat contradiction of the agreement that Al-Arian actually signed, declared: “The decision not to retry Dr. Al-Arian is proof that the prosecution lacked the necessary evidence to secure a conviction in this case.” Diving deeper into fantasyland, Bedier insisted: “There was also a report somewhere, earlier today in some media, that the, uh, guilty plea, one of the guilty plea, that he agreed to a lesser charge of some sort of conspiracy. We have confirmed that that is false. There is no plea to any sort of conspiracy to support terrorism at all.” A press release from CAIR’s national office disingenuously neglected to identify the “lesser charge” to which Al-Arian pled guilty, and echoed Linda Moreno in noting that “the government conceded in the agreement that there were no acts of violence committed by Al-Arian.”
But this is a distinction without a difference, and a canny attempt by both Moreno and CAIR to imply that what Al-Arian has now admitted to having done was somehow innocuous. If Al-Arian was aiding the group, and the group was killing Israeli civilians, then Al-Arian was aiding in those murders. After all, Al-Arian stood by approvingly at one Islamic conference while former Cleveland Imam Fawaz Damra (himself now also deported) tried to raise money for Islamic Jihad by saying: “Donate to the Islamic Jihad. Nidal Zalooum from the Islamic Jihad held a dagger and stabbed four of the Jews in the courtyard of Al-Haram Al-Qudsi….One of them would leave his house with a knife to stab the Jews -- twelve Jews -- after the events of the Gulf War. Brothers, the Intifadah calls you. Five hundred dollars! Who would add to five hundred dollars?”
Moreover, it is clear that the former professor holds to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s ideology of Islamic supremacism and the destruction of Israel. That ideology is inseparable from the larger aspirations of the global mujahedin, who strive ultimately to impose Sharia upon the Islamic world and then the non-Muslim world – and to commit acts of violence to that end. Al-Arian’s guilty plea and deportation thus constitute a significant setback for the subversive, soft jihad that the mujahedin have been waging in the West, largely (but not solely) by financing jihad activities elsewhere in the world under religious and academic cover.
Paul Perez, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, put it succinctly: “Al-Arian has now confessed to helping terrorists do their work from his base here in the United States -- a base he is no longer able to maintain.” He is unable to maintain that base today no thanks to CAIR, Nicholas Kristof, Eric Boehlert, John Esposito, and numerous other pillars of today’s academic and journalistic elites – elites which Al-Arian’s guilty plea have been shown once again to be thoroughly, irredeemably corrupt.
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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.