A terrorist associated with the group that murdered my daughter, Alisa, has organized an “academic” conference—and professors from several mainstream American and British universities are among the speakers. It’s an outrage and a badge of shame for those institutions.
The terrorist’s name is Sami Al-Arian. Between 1994 and 2003, the FBI taped some 20,000 hours of telephone conversations between Al-Arian and cohorts which revealed that they were using Islamic charities as fronts for raising money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists.
It was during that period, in April 1995, that Palestinian Islamic Jihad bombed the bus on which Alisa was riding. So yes, I take it personally. And I testified at his trial.
Al-Arian initially denied the charges against him. Then, later, he confessed that the charge was accurate. He pleaded guilty in February 2006 to conspiring to finance Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“You are a master manipulator,” Judge James S. Moody declared at Al-Arian’s sentencing. “You looked your neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie. Your back-up claim is that your efforts were only to provide charities for widows and orphans. That too is a lie. The evidence was clear in this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. You were on the board of directors and an officer, the secretary. Directors control the actions of an organization, even the PIJ, and you were an active leader.” He sentenced Al-Arian to four years and nine months in prison.
In 2015, the Obama administration deported Al-Arian to Turkey. Since then, he has been trying to create an image for himself as a legitimate academic figure. Among other things, he created a Center for Islamic and Global Affairs at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University.
The center’s latest activity was the “Fourth International Conference on Islamophobia,” which was held last weekend, March 11-13. Many of those involved with the event are the kind of extremists you’d expect to be comfortable with a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist. For example, one of the co-sponors of the event is the Center for Peace and Dialogue at Iran’s University of Religions and Denominations. Professors from that “university” and Iran’s University of Tehran are among the speakers.
I’m not going to bother complaining about the Iranian participants, except to note the obvious: The Iranian government would never permit one of its pseudo-academics to speak at a conference abroad unless it was confident that he will not deviate from the regime’s official party line.
No, what really troubles me is that a number of professors from American and British universities will be speaking at the terrorist’s conference. The United States and Great Britain have genuine academic standards. Our educational institutions pride themselves on serving as bastions of free speech and serious scholarship. They claim to stand for the exact opposite of what Palestinian Islamic Jihad stands for.
Yet three of the speakers at the terrorist’s conference this week are from Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. Prof. John Esposito, director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, will be Al-Arian’s keynote speaker.
Ms. Mobashra Tazamal, of Georgetown’s “Bridge Initiative,” will also speak. And she and Esposito are also serving on the conference’s program committee.
Another American academic, Magna Mohapatra of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is also on the roster.
British academics are also prominent on the list of speakers. David Miller, of the University of Bristol, will speak on “Zionist Islamophobia: How the Zionist Movement Encourages Islamophobic ideas, Movements and Policies.”
Professors from the University of Leeds (Ayşe Kotan, Mona Makinejad and Sümeyye Sakarya), the University of Edinburgh (Khadijah Elshayyal) and the University of Salford (Fahid Qurashi) will also be speaking.
I understand that the principle of academic freedom precludes a university from preventing its professors from taking part in whatever conference happens to interest them.
But the presidents of these universities still have a moral obligation to make clear that they are appalled by the participation of their professors in a terrorist’s conference.
If professors from Georgetown or the University of Wisconsin took part in a conference organized by a white supremacist terrorist, you can bet that Georgetown president John J. DeGioia and Wisconsin chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin would vigorously denounce them. Those who participate in a conference organized by a Palestinian Arab supremacist-terrorist deserve the same condemnation.
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is author of, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”