It has been called “the most significant terrorism trial” since 9-11: the first time alleged leaders of Islamic Jihad, self-confessed killers of more than 100 Israelis and two Americans, are being tried in an American court; the first time the controversial Patriot Act has lassoed jihadists of this magnitude; and the first time that Arab professors in an American university who have claimed “academic freedom” for their pro-Palestinians views have been indicted for using their university offices to direct and finance terrorist activity.
Yet most New Yorkers are oblivious to this case because The New York Times, let alone most other northern newspapers, has decided not to cover the extraordinary testimony being heard now in a Tampa, Fla., courtroom.
Charged with racketeering, conspiracy, materially aiding terrorists and running the American office of Palestinian Islamic Jihad are Kuwaiti-born Palestinian Sami Al-Arian, former professor at the University of South Florida; Sameeh Hammoudeh, a former instructor at the university; and two Islamic activists, Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut.
Also mentioned in the indictment is Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who was an adjunct professor of Middle Eastern studies at USF before returning to Syria when he was appointed leader of Islamic Jihad in 1995. Shallah came to the United States on a visa sponsored by Al-Arian.
Government prosecutor Walter Furr declared to the jury that Al-Arian at one point from his Tampa office was the most powerful man in all of Islamic Jihad.
There have been other remarkable trials this month. The Times ran Michael Jackson’s acquittal in a multi-column banner across the front page, and provided daily coverage to the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the former Klansman convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of three civil rights workers in Mississippi 41 years ago.
Clearly the Mississippi trial warranted that coverage, but one can make the case that Islamic Jihad is to the 21st century what the Klan was to the 20th and that the trial of Al-Arian is every bit analogous to Killen’s.
The Times, however, after three stories covering the opening of the Al-Arian trial has decided to take it off the daily beat.
Eric Lichtblau, the Times reporter on the case, wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Week, “It’s uncertain when I’ll be back in Tampa, but we’ll be monitoring the trial and probably doing occasional stories along the way on key witnesses, the start of the defense, closings and the verdict. That’s the norm for a case of interest like this one. There are very few trials that we or other national media cover on a day-to-day or even weekly basis, and the slow start for the prosecution in Al-Arian didn’t suggest there would be enough to warrant frequent coverage. But if you hear of something interesting on it, let me know.”
It’s hard to agree that the prosecution is off to a slow start. The lawyer for Hammoudeh, Stephen Crawford, a USF graduate who was born on the West Bank, told The New York Sun that he expected “shock and awe” from the prosecution.
Newsday (June 16), picking up a story by The Associated Press, reported the testimony of Kesari Ruza, who in 1995 was riding on a bus in Gaza alongside her friend Alisa Flatow, 20, a college student from West Orange, N.J., when a suicide bomber plowed his van filled with explosives into the bus. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Ruza was napping when the van hit. She told the court, “As soon as I woke up, Alisa’s head kind of fell toward me. ... Her eyes were rolled back in her head and her hands were sort of curled in.”
A 10-minute video taken at the scene and introduced to the court showed the carnage and a close-up of Flatow lying on her back outside the bus. She died the next day. The photos shown in the court are available on Yahoo! by searching for “Alisa Flatow” in the news category.
“There was blood everywhere,” Ruza testified. “There was blood on us, blood on our bags.”
Michael Fechter, reporting in the Tampa Tribune (June 16-17), described “the blood, noise and chaos that follows a terrorist attack” displayed to jurors. He described how “blood soaked the steps” of the Egged bus, with what sounded like crashing rocks giving way to the sound of cries as people were hurled to the ground “obviously in pain.”
Newsday reported Stephen Flatow’s account of how he flew to Israel and found his daughter in a hospital “with bandages on her head and her long, dark hair shaved off.” Flatow told how he took his daughter’s hand and talked to her, hoping she might respond.
But, he said, “When I let go of Alisa’s hand, it just fell limp by the side of the bed.”
Fechter in the Tampa Tribune (June 16) wrote: “Flatow, wearing a yarmulke, had difficulty maintaining composure as he identified pictures of his daughter as a young school girl … He repeatedly sighed heavily and paused at times to fight back tears. Flatow said he wanted to tell her, ‘Daddy’s here. Everything’s going to be OK,’ but what Al-Arian wrought was beyond a daddy’s capacity to repair.”
Media critics who scolded The Sun and Bill O’Reilly for having “an agenda” in their relentless coverage of radical Middle Eastern professors — O’Reilly on his Fox News show in September 2001 challenged Al-Arian on his support of terrorism and a video in which he called for “death to the Jews” — are now silent about the Times’ “agenda” of minimal coverage.
It’s not that the Times was always reticent about Al-Arian. Three years ago (Jan. 27, 2002) he was the centerpiece of an editorial charging that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the University of South Florida “dishonor ideals of public universities by trying to fire Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian … whose anti-Israel statements have produced threats to campus and a decline in contributions.” Now there are no Times editorials.
Al-Arian was the focus as well of two Times columns by Nicholas Kristof. On March 1, 2002, he wrote that Al-Arian “denounces terrorism” and “promotes interfaith services with Jews,” and warned that “a university, even a country, becomes sterile when people are too intimidated to say things out of the mainstream. … Three exhaustive studies of his conduct have found no evidence of wrongdoing.”
Now that evidence is being presented and Kristof is silent.
A columnist in the Tampa Trib, Daniel Ruth (June 8), wrote: “It’s merely a guess, but when you’ve been captured on videotape in the company of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the thug who was one of the masterminds of the first World Trade Center bombing, and when you’ve been caught on film saying, `Jihad is our path … Death to Israel,’ it is sort of hard to later argue you were just kidding around.
Ruth went on to say, “Nobody has denied his right to free speech. … Words didn’t kill Alisa Flatow. Shrapnel that prosecutors say Sami Al-Arian paid for did. And the fact that [one of Al-Arian’s defenders] doesn’t seem to understand the difference between free speech and sitting shivah could suggest this trial might not take as long as some people think.”
The most thorough daily coverage of the trial, with considerable background information, can be found on the Tampa Tribune Web site, http://reports.tbo.com/reports/alarian/. (Note: I have excerpted the entire article, something I don't usually do because I feel strongly this needs to be publicized- PS)
"Keep 'em stupid and preoccupied with trash" appears to be the motto of the media when it comes to covering the war on terror. Unless you happen to live in Tampa, this information is clearly not interesting....
Once again the totalitarian media giants have kept news of essential events that might help people develop a rational perspective about what is going on in the world out of the public eye.
La belle indifference.