"Four Thanksgivings Later"
Tampa Tribune - Tampa, Fla.
Nov 21, 2004
There was a lot of talk during the campaign about how we inhabit a different world than we did on Sept. 10, 2001. But the world of Sept. 12 is almost as remote.
On that day, who didn't think that another attack was imminent? Who would have taken a bet that we would go for 38 months and counting without an al-Qaida operation on our soil? Those of us who had to fly during the rest of September sat in half-empty planes and were thanked by grateful pilots.
Why have we been spared? Obviously a lot of credit goes to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the CIA, and Pakistan's security agency, who have taken out most of the al-Qaida leadership. Saddam had no WMD and no plans to attack American civilians. But even if the invasion of Iraq was precipitous or unnecessary, it may have had a chilling effect on those tempted to provide havens for terrorists, including Osama's Pushtan hosts. They may admire him, but they correctly fear the consequences of another attack on the United States. That Osama's October surprise was a tape rather than a bomb suggests he may be under something like house arrest.
At home, the FBI may have disrupted terrorist plans, though there's been no bust of an al-Qaida cell since the arrests in Buffalo in September 2002. But whatever has been accomplished here and abroad, the fact remains that it is not that difficult to launch murderous attacks, especially if you're willing to die in the process.
Getting into the country is no problem; our borders are porous. Acquiring bomb-making material or AK-47s is still easier. But no explosive devices have been left in shopping bags in a mall or in briefcases on a subway. No one has fired on crowds in stadiums or at theme parks with assault rifles.
Naturally, this could all change tomorrow. There may still be sleeper cells here. Other, better-organized terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas, may have refrained from an attack on U.S. soil mainly for pragmatic reasons -- it would jeopardize their ability to raise funds here.
But it's fair to conclude, on the basis of what hasn't happened in the last 38 months, that we are not hated in the Middle East with anything like the intensity some of us once imagined.
American flags may be burned, slogans shouted, guns fired into the air, but the anger is not sharp or sustained enough to incite men to murder. Many Americans feared that Islamic fundamentalists among Muslim-Americans would provide logistical support or launch ad hoc attacks. This has not happened.
It's as easy to forget that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks as it is that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Among the many blessings we can be grateful for this Thursday is that much of what we imagined on Sept. 12, 2001, was mistaken.
"Where Al-Arian's Prosecutors Failed"
Tampa Tribune - Tampa, Fla.
Dec 19, 2005
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus after one of the most famous trials in history.
On the basis of perjury and forged documents, the French artillery captain had been convicted of spying for Germany and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. His real crime was to have been Jewish at a time when anti-Semitism was on the upsurge in France.
Is there a parallel with the Sami Al-Arian case? Was the former University of South Florida engineering professor persecuted because he had the bad luck to be a prominent and vocal Muslim during a period of anti-Islamic hysteria - only to be vindicated in the end, like the Jewish officer? Did common sense prevail?
Not really. Unlike in the Dreyfus case, Al Arian's defenders made no attempt to show the evidence was falsified. He had made the phone calls, faxed the faxes, opened and closed the bank accounts, wired the funds. His defense team didn't call a single witness. And the evidence - more than 1,000 exhibits documenting 324 separate incidents - showed conclusively that (a) Al Arian was intimately involved in running the U.S. cell of Islamic Jihad and (b) Islamic Jihad was a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of more than 100 civilians, including two Americans.
Existing To Win Loyalty
So why did the jury resist putting 2 and 2 together? What flummoxed the 12 men and women was the issue of intent.
Like all organizations seeking political power through violence, including the Nazi and Communist parties, Islamic Jihad runs both front organizations and charitable organizations. The front organizations, like WISE at USF, are to proselytize among Americans and to raise money. The charitable organizations exist to win loyalty among Palestinians and, no less important, to subsidize the families of suicide bombers.
Your parents may be proud that you've chosen martyrdom, but it doesn't pay the rent. Knowing that your family will be supported after you've blown yourself up may help clinch the decision for a potential suicide bomber.
Bottom line: The entire organization exists to support terror. Would anyone who claimed to have funded the Nazis because of their great soup kitchens and summer camps have been taken seriously?
Did the prosecution present evidence that Al-Arian had a clue as to what Islamic Jihad was up to? Of course. He wrote a letter taking credit for the Beit Lid bus bombing in January 1995 and asked a potential contributor to give so that his "operations like this could continue."
At a Cleveland fundraiser, the cleric who introduced him identified him as head of the "active arm" of Palestinian Jihad and helpfully mentioned that the organization was using the name Islamic Committee for Palestine as a cover. When Al-Arian had finished his speech praising suicide bombers, the cleric solicited contributions, reminding the audience that anyone who donated was himself a warrior fighting in behalf of Allah - like the Islamic Jihad recruit who had just stabbed four Jews in Jerusalem. The audience shelled out $6,785. On Al Arian's computer were the wills of three men who died attacking an Israeli base.
So where did the government go wrong? Prosecutors have been blamed for not dumbing down their case - for calling too many witnesses and presenting too much evidence, stupefying instead of impressing the jurors. There's some truth in this. The trial took six full months. Cherie Krigsman's summation for the prosecution took over eight hours. A simpler, more streamlined case with fewer counts might have helped.
But the prosecution's real failure was not to have anticipated the case the defense would make. "It's all about politics," Al Arian shouted repeatedly to reporters as he was led past. He was giving away his team's strategy.
What's Not Protected
First, of course, Al Arian's two lawyers made the First Amendment argument. The prosecution might have explained more clearly and forcefully that damning America and damning Israel were fully protected by the Constitution, but raising money for terrorists was not. (This, of course, is a distinction that was lost on the USF Faculty Senate. Had a professor been running a think tank that was secretly linked to the Likud Party or the Mossad, Israel's CIA, would there have been a whimper of protest after he was canned?)
Then, insisting that they were going to provide a "context," Al-Arian's lawyers put Israel on trial. The case they made was so biased that no objective historian would have accepted it for a moment. But the prosecution, though it called over 70 witnesses, failed to put on the stand someone who could eloquently defend Israel's right to exist, could explain the concessions Israel had made since 1993 for peace, could reveal in detail what the Palestinian response has been, and could explain in particular the unambiguous goal of Islamic Jihad: the annihilation of Israel.
The message from this jury is clear: Anyone wishing to set up an organization on U.S. soil to murder Israeli civilians has a green light. Americans are too unsophisticated to unravel the kinds of complicated transactions that fund terrorism. Just don't get caught on video strapping a bomb on a terrorist who is in turn caught on video detonating it.
Despite the claims of CAIR, I do not believe all Tampa Bay Muslims support Al-Arian. It would be nice to hear from a few who don't - though it would take even more courage than the French writer Emile Zola displayed more than a century ago in writing his famous pamphlet on the Dreyfus case, "J'Accuse."