The long-running case of Palestinian academic Sami al-Arian, jailed in Florida since early 2003, accused with others of supporting terrorism in Palestine, appeared to reached a conclusion of sorts on May 1. The former professor at the University of Southern Florida was sentenced to 57 months in jail -- the maximum possible sentence -- after he pleaded guilty last month to a minor charge of giving support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement as part of a plea bargain. The sentence shocked his family and supporters, who had expected on the basis of the plea bargain that he would be given the minimum possible sentence and released by the end of this month. After serving the remainder of his sentence, up to another 18 months, he will be deported from the US, where he has lived for the last 30 years. Supporters were also shocked by the vitriolic speech given by the judge when passing sentence, which repeated many of the charges of which Arian had been cleared, and numerous unfounded allegations that had been rejected by the jury.
Al-Arian, who is related by marriage to Mazen al-Najjar, was deported from the US in 2002 after being held for over three years without trial on secret evidence, has maintained his innocence of the charges against him throughout his ordeal, only agreeing to plead guilty to one minor charge in order to resolve the issue. Last year he was cleared by a jury of 17 charges brought against him after a six-month trial. His supporters believe that the US justice system needed a conviction because they had too much invested in his case to allow him simply to walk free. Whether he will be released at the end of his sentence remains to be seen; Samih Hamoudi, another Palestinian charged with al-Arian, remains in jail despite all charges against him having been dropped in February. He was expected to be deported then, but was prevented from leaving the country with his family at the last minute; his family were forced to travel toJordan without him. He remains in jail for no apparent legal reason.
We cannot be sure, therefore, that the saga of the political persecutions of the founders of the World Islamic Studies Enterprise (WISE) and their associates is ending with the conviction and sentencing of Arian. What we can be sure of, reviewing the whole saga since the arrest of Mazen al-Najjar in 1997 after lurid allegations in the rightwing press, is that this group of Palestinians were persecuted for nothing but political reasons. Let no one suggest that there is justice for Muslims in the USA.