Al-Arian’s Plea Embarrasses the Left

The Left has the inconvenient habit of racing to the reflexive defense of anyone accused of working secretly against the United States. Perhaps best known is the case of Alger Hiss. Hiss was an urbane US State Department official accused of being a spy for the Communists. He was eventually convicted of perjury in 1950. For decades afterwards, where one stood on the innocence of Hiss was a reliable measure of where one stood on the political spectrum. The Right viewed Hiss as an example of the enchantment of some on the Left with Communism, while those on the Left saw Hiss as a person persecuted by excessive American fear of Communism. Since the end of the Cold War formerly classified documents have become available, particularly those of the Verona Project. The evidence of Hiss’s guilt from these documents is now dispositive to all but the intentionally intransigent.

Generations later, some on the Left have stumbled into the same trap with regard to Sami Al-Arian, the former computer science professor at the University of South Florida (USF). Al-Arian made the mistake of appearing on the O’Reilly Factor. Al-Arian did not fair very well under critical questioning by host Bill O’Reilly. Al-Arian could not adequately explain his association with people involved in terrorist organizations. Perhaps most damning were Al-Arian’s past public shouts of “Death to Israel.” Al-Arian pathetically excused such rhetoric as a metaphor for disagreement with Israeli policies. I am sure Al-Arian would not consider shouts of “Death to Al-Arian” made to enthusiastic cheering crowds as simply expressing disagreement with Al-Arian’s political positions. I am sure he would feel directly threatened.

In the immediate aftermath of the interview, Al-Arian was dismissed from USF. The ostensible reason was that Al-Arian had not explicitly made clear that he was speaking for himself and that his positions did not necessarily represent those of the USF. Apparently, for security reasons, Al-Arian was directly not to return to campus. By returning to campus, he gave the university administration yet another excuse to dismiss him.

Al-Arian’s defenders included the liberal Salon Magazine, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Civil Liberties Union, who portrayed the dismissal of a tenured professor for controversial remarks as a violation of Academic Freedom and, because the USF is a public institution, a violation of the First Amendment.

There is a legitimate point buried here. The reasons for dismissal were contrived and certainly would not have been applied to a more mainstream character. The question is whether Al-Arian was being dismissed for having controversial opinions or for the intimidating and threatening way in which they were expressed. Chants of “Death to Israel” are, to any reasonable person, inflammatory and not merely the expression of opinions within a community of scholars.

Conservatives should be a little apprehensive of embracing Al-Arian’s dismissal for clearly inflammatory remarks. Given the occupation of college campuses by the extreme Left Wing, it is not hard to imagine even mainstream Conservative thought being unfairly labeled as “hate speech.”

Recently at Ohio State University a librarian was charged with “sexual harassment.” Librarian Scott Savage was part of a committee deciding on books for freshman to read. He suggested The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian, The Professors by David Horowitz, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye’or, and It Takes a Family by Senator Rick Santorum. Some professors described the books as hate literature to which tolerance should not be extended. At a university, where the widest possible latitude for the civil exchange of ideas ought to be allowed, the suggestion that certain books be read becomes a crime. Charges were dropped, but a chilling effect remains on any similarly-minded librarians.

The temptation to come to the defense of anyone being prosecuted by the Bush Justice Department was just a little too great for sober minds to prevail. Unfortunately, the defense of Al-Arian did not solely remain centered on free speech issues or the question academic of freedom. It is possible to defend the free speech of despicable people. But that was not enough here. Al-Arian was described as an innocent professor devoted to increasing the understanding between peoples, persecuted by anti-Islamic bigotry in the aftermath of September 11th. The Left let its view of Americans and the American government as mean spirited dolts overwhelm the common sense notion that one should wait until the entire case is adjudicated before running to the defense of someone they really do not know very well.

Al-Arian was acquitted on 8 of 17 charges for helping a known terrorist organization. There was a deadlock on the remaining charges. The much ballyhooed vindication was short-lived. Al-Arian has just pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds for the benefit of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Islamic Jihad is a designated terrorist organization. There is no longer a question of fact. Al-Arian was using the United States, his position at USF, and gullible Leftists to provide material support to Islamic terrorist organizations. Those who supported Al-Arian as a put upon innocent have once again allowed their instinctive reaction to assume the worst of Americans to corner themselves into the uncomfortable position along side a convicted criminal.

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