The indictment and arrest of University of South Florida professor Sami
Al-Arian by the FBI last week was a watershed event in the US war on
This was so not because Arian was the CEO of the Islamic Jihad, although
that he was. Nor was it a watershed because by arresting Arian, the US has
shown that it will apply the full weight of its laws against terrorists,
whether their targets are Israeli or American.
Nor still was it a watershed because it brought to bear the new anti-terror
law enforcement powers granted to police and intelligence arms of the US
government by the 2002 Patriot Act.
Rather, Arian's arrest was a watershed because of the political will that
stood behind the decision to move forward in the case.
Arian was arrested on charges of conspiracy to murder and maim people
outside the US, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to
Islamic Jihad, extortion, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud –
charges that carry a sentence of life in prison.
Since journalist and terror expert Steven Emerson produced the PBS
documentary Jihad in America in 1994, the fact that Arian was the head of
the Islamic Jihad in America was the worst kept secret in the world.
In that documentary, Emerson showed that the Islamic Jihad's headquarters in
the US has the same address as the World and Islam Studies Enterprise,
(WISE), a USF think- tank run by Arian.
One of WISE's research fellows was Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. Shallah left
the institute in 1995 and moved to Damascus to take over the Islamic Jihad
after the group's leader Fathi Shikaki was killed in Malta by the Mossad.
In the same 1994 documentary, Emerson showed Arian in action, making
speeches in praise of jihad against Israel and suicide bombers.
And yet the result of the documentary was that the liberal establishment of
the US branded Emerson a bigoted, Islam-bashing racist while Arian was feted
as a civil rights trailblazer for Muslims in America.
Emerson was banned from National Public Radio and Arian was invited to the
White House on four separate occasions – three times by President Bill
Clinton and once by President George W. Bush.
In spite of Emerson's reams of evidence, which proved conclusively that
Arian was an arch-terrorist, Arian received accolades from both the Left and
Middle East studies professors, influential journalists and political
organizers spanning the ideological spectrum attacked Arian's accusers as
racist right up until the week before his arrest.
After years of fighting a lone battle against Arian and the Islamic Jihad
cells he funded and organized in the US, Emerson's cause was given a push on
September 26, 2001 when Arian was interviewed by popular Fox News
commentator Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly, who questioned Arian about past
statements in favor of jihad and suicide bombings in Israel concluded the
interview by commenting that if he were in the CIA he would trail Arian '24
hours a day.'
In the aftermath of the interview, USF suspended Arian.
This move was met by howls of indignation from Arian's friends on the
political Left and in academia. The powerful and respected Middle East
Studies Association wrote a letter to USF President Judy Genshaft in
February 2002, decrying the suspension as an attack on academic freedom.
Calling on USF to reinstate Arian, MESA's board of directors wrote, 'The
Arian case IS about academic freedom. It is also about the basic first
amendment right to freedom of speech.'
Here then, the most respected Middle East academic organization in the US went on record defending a suspected terrorist and decrying those who would view the issue as one of law
enforcement rather than one of civil rights.
On the political Right, Arian's greatest friend and supporter is the
Republican political organizer Grover Norquist. Since the late 1990s,
Norquist, who is closely allied with President Bush's senior political
advisor Karl Rove, has cultivated close relations with radical elements
within the US Muslim community.
Spurning those who question the wisdom of his feting of Islamic extremists,
Norquist was quick to claim after the 2000 elections that 'George W. Bush
owes his election to the Muslim vote.' This, in spite of the fact that Bush
lost the State of Michigan, which is home to the largest concentration of
Muslims in the US to Al Gore.
Norquist, who succeeded in getting candidate Bush to support the banning of
secret evidence from criminal trials (a position Bush abandoned after
September 11), was given an award for his efforts in April 2001 by an
organization called the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedoms –
or NCPPF. The president of this organization is Arian. Among the coalition
members are front organizations for Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, Hamas, the
IRA, the Peruvian Shining Path and the Basque separatists.
Just one week before Arian's arrest, Norquist launched a defamatory attack
against fellow Washington Republican Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan
administration official who now heads the Center for Security Policy, a
Washington- based neoconservative think tank. In an open letter to Gaffney,
Norquist attacked him for raising questions about a current and a former
White House official for having invited heads of radical Islamic
organizations with ties to terror groups to the White House.
Both men, Suhail Khan and Ali Tulbah are the sons of radical Islamic operatives on the
West Coast and were hired by the Bush administration to oversee outreach to
the Muslim community. Khan was removed from his position after it was
exposed that his father hosted an al-Qaida leader during two separate trips
to the US.
Ignoring the security implications of inviting known Islamic terror
sympathizers to the White House, Norquist claimed that raising criticism
amounted to 'racial prejudice, religious bigotry or ethnic hatred.'
Here too, then, Norquist on the Right – like MESA on the Left – refused to
acknowledge that support for terrorism and, in the case of Arian and his
associates, actual action in support of a terrorist organization, bear
Instead, terror apologists and perpetrators are viewed as simply another
legitimate voice in a free society's marketplace of ideas. Thus US academics
like Columbia University professor Joseph Massad, who just last week
published an article in Al-Ahram calling for progressive circles to force
the Palestinian leadership to again overtly embrace the destruction of
Israel and terrorism as official policy, are allowed to act with impunity.
The Bush administration's decision to press forward with charges against
Arian, in spite of his prominence, now puts these people on notice. It also
has several important implications for Israel in our fight against Islamic
terrorism – not least, to stop giving voice to those who use the public
stage to make apologies for terrorism and incite against Israel.
In enabling MKs Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara, whose overt support for
terrorist organizations is well documented, to run for Knesset in the last
election, our Supreme Court justices showed that they are unable to make the
distinction between protected and criminal speech.
As Justice Minister, Tommy Lapid will preside over the selection of the next generation of
Supreme Court justices. His choices will largely determine whether our
justice system will finally accept the
necessity of ending the practice of
providing legal protections to those who seek common cause with the enemies
of the State of Israel.
Today the US Congress is debating the second Patriot Act. This act provides
for the revocation of citizenship of those who support terrorist
organizations. During his term in office, outgoing Interior Minister Eli
Yishai revoked the citizenship of two Israeli Arabs who are members of
Hizbullah. Will incoming Interior Minister Avraham Poraz have the political
will to continue and widen the practice thus enforcing the state's
regulation that stipulates that support for terrorist activities and Israeli
citizenship are incompatible?
In arresting Arian and his Islamic Jihad cronies, the US has shown that its war on terrorism is being consistently and unapologetically fought by all levels of the US government.
It will be a central challenge of our new government, and particularly of our Shinui
ministers, to show that Israel fights our war against terrorism with at
least the same seriousness and intensity as the Bush administration.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.