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Al-Arian's indictment brings out the bigots

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003

Some of the lessons history teaches us are easy to learn, but some folks in the Tampa Bay area don't seem to get it.

With no local news talk show on radio airwaves Thursday afternoon, angry callers turned to sports shows to vent about the arrest of suspended USF professor Sami Al-Arian, who was indicted on charges of aiding terrorists. Frankly, it was like putting dynamite in the hands of children.

A number of callers spewed the kind of venom which in the past led to mob lynchings of blacks and internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

For some callers, the Al-Arian arrest cast USF president Judy Genshaft in a negative light. They decried her unwillingness to fire Al-Arian, suggested there may be other terrorists posing as professors at the school and even went so far as to say they weren't sure they wanted their children to attend the school.

People, get a grip. USF is one of the jewels of our community, and if a child could be raised amid such ignorance and still be accepted into the university, you should thank the heavens.

Furthermore, Al-Arian's arrest actually strengthens Genshaft's prudence over the handling of the divisive situation. Clearly, Genshaft and the school's board of trustees wanted Al-Arian out, but Genshaft could not ignore the protests of her faculty union or the legal ramifications.

I am still bothered by the timing of Genshaft's suspension of Al-Arian. Although Al-Arian had long been accused of having ties to terrorism, his status at the university didn't truly come into question until he appeared on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show. It was difficult to discern if Genshaft was acting wisely or simply responding to the flames fueled by O'Reilly.

On Steve Duemig's WDAE-AM 620 show on Thursday, there were few "ifs." The presumption of Al-Arian's guilt was overwhelming among callers, even though a more recent history lesson from the Aisenberg case teaches us indictment does not equal conviction. One caller repeatedly said, "I hope they execute him."

The worst statements I heard came from a caller on the Brantley-Lane show. The woman talked of changing laws to get "them" out of here and then wondered out loud why "they" can't go to colleges in "their" countries.

Hey, lady, this country is meant to be all about "we" and "us."

We have to foster goodwill with those who have come to our country to better their lives. Not only is it the right thing to do, but hopefully, some will return to their native lands with a message that says America isn't filled with bogeymen.

History teaches us that unbridled hate and prejudice only result in regrets and remorse. The question is this: Are Americans unable to learn from the past, or simply unwilling?

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813)226-3406 or . His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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