The Magazine

Al-Arian Nation

Mar 10, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 25 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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FIVE MONTHS AGO, on September 24, 2002, an FBI electronic surveillance team recorded a telephone conversation between two Tampa, Florida, residents: a woman named Fedaa Al-Najjar and her friend Hatim Naji Fariz, the manager of a local medical clinic. The subject was Al-Najjar's husband, Mazen, a long-detained illegal alien--a prisoner of conscience, according to Amnesty International and a great many like-minded people here in the States--who just weeks before, after a multi-year legal battle, had finally been deported by the INS. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Al-Najjar, left behind in Tampa with the couple's children, was bitter. Her family and its circle of acquaintances were being persecuted because of their Palestinian heritage, she complained to Fariz. And Fariz was sympathetic--to a point.

Right, he replied, this is what they should always say in public--that they'd been targeted for official harassment by an American government hostile to their Muslim faith and irritated at their vocal campaign against Israeli human rights abuses. But it wasn't actually true, Fariz reminded his friend: The real reason her husband had been deported was that the FBI correctly suspected him of membership in an underground terrorist cell. And the full scope and nature of that cell remained a closely guarded secret, Fariz went on. So she needed to be more discreet; she was creating a security risk merely by alluding to the matter on an open phone line. After all, Fariz explained, the FBI did not yet know enough to arrest Mrs. Al-Najjar's brother-in-law, the group's clandestine ber-operative: University of South Florida computer science professor Sami Al-Arian--global chief financial officer, governing "Shura Council" secretary, and senior North American representative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Yes, him. The same Sami Al-Arian, our regular readers will remember, who, at the time this conversation took place, was enjoying an ongoing, twelve-month run as the world's favorite victim-symbol of neo-McCarthyite political repression in post-9/11 America. Through an improvident network television appearance shortly after the attacks, Prof. Al-Arian had resuscitated, and drawn national attention to, persistent charges that he was running a radical Palestinian propaganda campaign--or worse--out of his publicly funded campus office. And the president and trustees of that publicly funded campus, embroiled in unwanted controversy, had been threatening to fire him ever since. Which threat had served only to win the university still more severe, whiplash criticism from an entire galaxy of influential journalists, academics, and civil rights advocates. All of whom proclaimed the historical record devoid of evidence that Al-Arian had genuine "terrorist connections," or any such malarkey, and all of whom therefore felt free, as well, to proclaim it an outrage--against both the Constitution and Our Schools--that the good professor was being punished "just for his ideas."

For quite some time now, we have been arguing that Sami Al-Arian's defenders were misguided about all this--naive, or simply ignorant, about their would-be hero's true character, intentions, activities, and "ideas." But we do not feel the need to argue it any longer. Two weeks ago, on February 20, Al-Arian was indeed, at last, arrested by the FBI, having been named, along with Hatim Naji Fariz and six other confederates, in a massive, fifty-count federal terrorism-conspiracy indictment that promises to send him to prison for the rest of his life. That result is not guaranteed, to be sure, and he will have a full and fair trial before it arrives--ours being a sweet land of liberty, the professor's loyalists to the contrary notwithstanding. But one crucial judgment about Sami Al-Arian need not await an ultimate adjudication of his criminal guilt or innocence. That judgment, it seems to us, is already inescapable: The man has made an abject fool out of every non-terrorist friend he has ever had.