Mideast academics’ reactions to the arrest of University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian ranged from extremely skeptical to passionately supportive of the Justice Department’s case.
Georgetown University adjunct professor Rob Sobhani, an expert on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, said Al-Arian’s case proves terrorism by militants is alive and well within our borders.
"My first reaction was that the danger of fundamental Islam, of radical Islam, has moved to the shores of the United States," Sobhani said. "The danger of being a target of terrorism has increased, not decreased."
But Arabic professor Roger Allen, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said he doesn’t trust the government in the current climate.
"We simply don’t know what to believe," he said. "We’re in a situation now where whatever information is available is being manipulated left, right and center."
Sobhani, whose parents are Iranian, and Allen, who is British and has dual British-American citizenship, were responding to the Justice Department’s claims that Al-Arian was the North American head of a violent global terrorist organization known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The federal government has said the group is responsible for about 100 deaths in and around Israel. Six others were arrested along with Al-Arian, who was led in handcuffs Thursday morning to the FBI office in Tampa.
Sobhani thinks there are others who, like Al-Arian allegedly has, use their position and the cover of American citizenship against the interests of the United States.
"I believe there may be many, many other professors out there who are taking advantage of their American citizenship," he said. "We need to do a better job of demanding patriotism."
Sobhani blamed the sometimes-weak support of the United States by its citizens on multiculturalism and what he characterized as a "broken immigration system."
"Multiculturalism breeds divided loyalties. Divided loyalties are taken advantage of by our enemies like (Usama) bin Laden."
But Allen believes the post-Sept. 11 system of monitoring Middle Easterners here has run amok. His position at Penn’s Middle East Center has led him to witness the effects firsthand, he said.
He told of how one of his language teachers, who went home to the Middle East for the winter holidays, is only now being allowed back in the country. Another Pakistani candidate for a job had trouble making interview arrangements because he isn’t allowed to depart or arrive at several airports, including Philadelphia International.
"It’s mind-blowing," Allen said. "Many people say it’s because of bureaucratic snafus; agencies are doing increased checks. That’s all well and good, but I tend to see this as a changed attitude — and racist."
Sobhani believes both of the major political parties in the U.S. are responsible for what he sees as prominent gaps in American patriotism.
"Both want to pander to various ethnic groups instead of putting American interests and American culture above anything else," he said. He thinks the Al-Arian case shows what unpatriotic American citizens are capable of.
Allen said he wanted to reserve judgment on Al-Arian, since he doesn’t buy what the American public is being told.
"Until a lot more information is available, I’m not prepared to say whether something is reasonable or not, justified or not, or outrageous or not," he said. "The very notion of truth or fact is relative."