Student Groups Sponsor Fundraiser for Al-Arian
By Nick Timiraos
Hoya Staff Writer - April 15, 2003
Three Georgetown University student groups — Muslim Students Association, the Young Arab Leadership Alliance and Campaign Civil Rights — co-sponsored a fundraiser last Thursday evening in ICC Galleria to benefit the legal defense fund of former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian.
“The goals of the event were basically to raise awareness of civil rights issues — the current situation of American Muslims in the U.S., Dr. Sami Al-Arian’s case and to help raise funds to secure legal council and ensure a fair trial for Dr. Al-Arian,” MSA spokesperson Aiysha Hussain (SFS ’05) said. “The event was successful in helping raise awareness in [these] aspects.”
Al-Arian and three others were indicted on Feb. 20 and are awaiting trial for charges of racketeering and conspiracy to provide support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the Department of Justice has designated a foreign terrorist organization. Al-Arian, who taught at the University of South Florida’s Engineering school, is the alleged leader of PIJ in the United States, according to the Justice Department.
In an April 10 hearing, Al-Arian was denied bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo. According to an April 11 article in the St. Petersburg Times of Tampa Bay, Fla., Pizzo denied bail based on the fact that the evidence against Al-Arian was “substantial and convincing” and said he considered Al-Arian a flight risk. Pizzo also said that all four men were “prominent leaders and models of civic involvement in their respective communities.”
The 121-page indictment does not accuse Al-Arian or the three other defendants of carrying out any terrorist attacks. The allegations in the indictment focus on supporting and raising funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Between 70 and 100 people attended Thursday’s event, Hussain said. Admission to the event was $15 for students, $20 for non-students and $50 for families of four or less, according to flyers advertising the event.
“We collected a couple thousand dollars for the legal defense fund,” Hussain said.
According to Student Activities Commission Chair Matt Connolly (COL ’04), MSA requested approval and funding for the event during the commission’s weekly meeting on March 31. SAC meetings and minutes as well as events hosted by SAC clubs are public, Connolly said.
“They made it clear that they were not [having the event] to say if Al-Arian was innocent or not, but that they just wanted to make sure that he got a fair trial,” Connolly said.
Although the event did not receive SAC funding, Connolly said SAC approved the event. “We decided that because it was a fundraiser, that they could pay for any expenses out of their profits for the event.”
Connolly said that the event’s planners had hoped to raise $2,840 at the event.
The banquet-style fundraiser featured several speakers, including philosophy professor Mark Lance, a chaplain from Howard University and Laila Al-Arian (COL ’03), the daughter of Sami Al-Arian.
Al-Arian is a Hoya staff writer.
Al-Arian discussed her father’s work for civil rights and human rights and how she believes he has been targeted for his activism mainly because of his advocacy of human rights for Palestinians.
“I think [the attendees] left the event knowing a little more about the case and hearing historical precedent, that the government’s targeting of politically vulnerable groups like American Muslims is nothing new in our history,” Al-Arian said. “It’s happened before, to the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, to anyone suspected of sympathizing with communists during the McCarthy era and to African Americans during the civil rights movement. I guess now it's our turn.”
Al-Arian said that she has felt intimidated as an American Muslim.
“It’s sad because [the United States] is the only place I've ever known and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, but at the same time, I feel like a second-class citizen,” she said.
Al-Arian spoke out against the treatment of many detainees who are still awaiting trial, including her father.
“I do think my father’s civil liberties have been violated. Undoubtedly his arrest is politically motivated. He's been targeted for involvement in legal, first amendment-protected activities,” she said. “Also, he’s currently being held at a maximum security federal penitentiary among convicted felons and he hasn't even been to trial yet, let alone sentenced. He’s being held in deplorable conditions that are inappropriate for a free democracy. For example, he is given one 15 minute phone call a month and limited access to his attorneys. In this atmosphere of heightened fear and anxiety, I am not sure that a fair trial is possible.”
Despite her hardship, Al-Arian said that the university community has been supportive throughout the entire process.
“The [university] administration has been very understanding of my difficult situation and the deans have done a wonderful job of reaching out to me,” Al-Arian said. “I feel extremely lucky to be here during the most difficult and trying time of my life. I truly feel like Georgetown is one family and I am especially heartened by all of the support I received from friends and classmates.”
(The Hoya - Georgetown University newspaper)