Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Al-Arian acquitted

A jury acquitted Sami Al-Arian of eight of the 17 counts against him, including a key charge of conspiring to maim and murder people overseas. The jurors deadlocked on the others, including charges he aided terrorists.

Living in the United States, you have to have a fair amount of confidence in the legal system to discern truth and falsehoods, and I think I do trust the system a good bit. I wouldn't want to be on the accused end of a trial or anything, but if I were ever falsely accused of something, I would hope that, in the end, the truth would come out.

I have to trust that the jurors had many more facts in this case than I do, than you do, or than the media. On top of this need to believe in the system, I also have an uncommon perspective on the case. I was still attending the University of South Florida (wrapping up an incomplete grade) at the time it all blew up, and I knew Al-Arian's daughter, Leena.

The Religious Studies department at USF was small-- so small that each student, undergraduate or graduate, had their own box for communications in the departmental offices. Professors all knew their students well, and the students were a close-knit group who often attended baseball games together "to do a little participant observation of the ritual behaviors of the American pop culture." The conference room was often open during the day, and it was not unusual to find a small group of students having lunch around the conference table together each day. I was never a close friend of Leena, but I did have lunch with her on several occasions and get to see a bit of who she was. She's funny, sweet, ethical, honest, and kind-hearted, and spoke openly about her father, and what a great man she had always seen him as. Apparently, when his wife had wanted to go back to college, Sami stayed home with the children, and from Leena's stories, was the kind of playful, loving, nurturing father any child would be blessed to have. Truthfully, being at USF when he was placed on suspended leave and then fired, the way it was handled never really felt right. I don't know all the facts, but it just didn't feel right. And Leena, at age 17, was the one usually before the camera when the family wanted to make a statement-- exhibiting a kind of strength and courage that is rare among teenagers.

As for the victims of any terrorist actions in the world, my heart goes out to them and to their families. They deserve justice. And if Sami Al-Arian had any part in coordinating terrorist actions, then I have to have faith that the justice system will eventually bring that to light and see that it is punished. But no matter what he did or didn't do, he has a family, too. A beautiful one, with a strong wife and children of great character. It's just all pretty bizarre....

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