Sami Al-Arian’s story is one of the most appalling tales of brutal, horrifying, unjust treatment of a Palestinian victimized by Americans.
Al-Arian, born as a Palestinian refugee in Kuwait, went to America in 1975.
According to his website biography, he began teaching computer science at the University of South Florida in 1986, and was active politically in Muslim causes.
He co-founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, “a research and academic institution dedicated to promoting dialogue between the Muslim and Western worlds.
The Tampa Bay Times staff in Florida report that “Al-Arian became a tenured professor, and won a distinguished teaching award in 1993.”
Earning tenure as a professor and receiving teaching awards do not come easily. Such awards are even harder to come by for non-native teachers. As a computer scientist, he had to be tops.
Then in 2002, Al-Arian was invited to appear on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly. He made three fatal mistakes:
He didn’t take the time to do some research on O’Reilly before accepting the invitation. Had he done so, he could have bet that O’Reilly was out to burn any Arab after 9/11.
Al-Arian would have discovered that O’Reilly and Fox News were among the best-known mouthpieces of right-wing Islamophobic America.
Al-Arian allowed O’Reilly to demean the South Florida University where Al-Arian was teaching. The reaction to the Fox show was so bad that the University president fired Al-Arian. .
Sadly, Al-Arian must have assumed that Americans would have the kind of positive reactions to him that he had enjoyed with his students and university colleagues.
The Al-Arian timeline, following his firing (from the Tampa Bay Times, 2013):
● February, 2003: Sami Al-Arian is arrested and charged with links to terrorism.
● June, 2005: Al-Arian trial begins in Tampa.
● December, 2005: Jury acquits him on eight counts and deadlocks on nine.
● May, 2006: Al-Arian takes a plea deal, saying he aided associates of a terrorist group with immigration matters. The judge sentences him to 57 months, most of which he had already served.
● October, 2006: Al-Arian is subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Virginia but refuses because it is a violation of his plea agreement.
● April, 2008: He completes his sentence with a year added on because he refused to testify, and goes into an immigration detention facility to await deportation.
● June, 2008: He is charged with criminal contempt for refusing to testify.
● September, 2008: He is released on bail and placed under house arrest in Virginia.
● March, 2009: A Virginia prosecutor tells Judge Leonie Brinkema that Tampa prosecutors didn’t tell Al-Arian’s attorneys about the Virginia plan to subpoena him because “Florida didn’t care what was going on in Virginia.”
● April, 2009: Judge Brinkema says the integrity of the Justice Department is at issue in the Al-Arian case.
That was four and a half years ago. Al-Arian is still under house arrest in his daughter’s home, waiting for a decision that will allow him the freedom to be deported.
It was no more than an illusion of freedom that had deceived him into thinking that he could speak freely as a Palestinian refugee in America.
Al-Arian had no idea that those same Americans who had awarded him three university degrees, including a Ph.D. plus distinguished teaching awards, would treat him unfairly as a spokesman for Palestine and Islam.
An outstanding career that he built on his brilliance as a scholar and a wish to serve the country that had adopted and honoured him was flushed down an Islamophobic toilet.
Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.