Thursday, December 15, 2005

Innocent Is Nice, But Take a Hike

Pro or Per? When does prosecution become persecution?


AlarianSami Amin al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, is the latest of the Justice Department’s failed cases against what they have claimed to be high profile terrorists. A jury found al-Arian and his three co-defendants not guilty on eight of 17 counts, including conspiracy to maim or murder. Deadlocked on the remaining counts, some jurors said a large majority favored acquittal on those counts as well.


Interestingly, during the trial jurors reported to the judge that a fellow juror (identified only as #325) tried to prejudice them against Al-Arian. It is the norm under such circumstances for a judge to remove the juror and replace them with an alternate. It’s never been explained why Judge Moody allowed the juror to continue to sit in judgment on the case and one can only surmise that this juror is the cause of the deadlocked counts.


Al-Arian is not one who holds views that are popular in this country because he exposes the dark corners of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as is his right to do. Perhaps even his duty as an educated man of principle and a teacher. My favorite columnist, the late Sydney J. Harris of the Chicago Sun Times, said “Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”


The purpose of education.


Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, of which al-Arian was one, split off into violent and non-violent sectors as the movement itself became increasingly violent.  In the 20,000 hours of tapped phone calls, there are none involving al-Arian after April of 1994 when he says he broke contact for good over their violence. Noteworthy, is the report by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem that more than 3,300 Palestinians, almost 700 of them children, have been slain by Israelis in the last five years. Fewer than 1,000 Israelis, including approximately 120 kids, have been killed by Palestinians.


Certainly no one celebrates these numbers, but they are Israeli numbers and show the death rate more than 3-1 against Palestinian civilians. That surprised me, perhaps you as well.


"That's the context,” al-Arian explains. “That's what Americans never hear. Who is getting killed, who is killing. All they hear is that Palestinians bomb civilians, but almost never that Israelis kill our children. You tell me, why will no one in America ever talks about the terrorism we have lived with" since 1948?”


A fair question.


There is no greater freedom than that to express oneself. Even the prosecution conceded that the four men were never engaged in ‘actual acts of terrorism.’ Al-Arian spoke widely, not in support of terrorists but on behalf of Palestinian statehood and progress for his people, both civic and economic. He claims his prosecution is about silencing one side of the debate. His wife, Nahla, agrees and adds "What people do not understand is that victims say bad words about their victimizers. We are the victims. We don't hate people. We don't hate the Jews. We hate the occupation."


Al-Arian isn’t yet out of jail and the Justice Department is in no hurry to release him. Since he’s been acquitted in all of the most serious charges, bond would be the usual next step, while the government decides whether to re-try him on the deadlocked counts. But bond is unlikely from a judge that wouldn’t replace a tainted juror, even though Justice is highly unlikely to re-try a case they’re sure to lose. The next step under the Gonzales direction is deportation and one can but wonder if the freedom to express oneself means much under these circumstances.


Al-Arian doesn’t deny Israel’s right to exist, nor does he espouse terror-bombings from Palestinian territory against Israeli targets. Those are the facts. Facts found in one of the longest and most expensive jury trials brought by the Justice Department. Facts found in yet another Patriot Act lost cause. I am not on his side, mostly because I’m not sufficiently conversant with the complicated issues involved in nearly sixty years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


But I am always on Syd Harris’s side of turning mirrors into windows and steadfastly against our government’s increasing tendency to slam those windows in the face of unpopular thought. Family and friends of the former college professor greeted his acquittal last week with exclamations of "God is great" and "God bless America." It isn’t often we hear those two phrases in the same sentence from Muslims, particularly not in these overwrought times.


It seems a shame to deport those sentiments when we need them so badly. Prosecution becomes persecution when our courts deny jury-justice and replace it with government acquiesced mob-justice. The Justice Department mob can deport Sami Amin Al-Arian and so it will.


After the fact and after the act, Israelis and Palestinians are each the poorer for it.
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There are lots more Things That Make Me Nuts, all of them on my personal web site.