A Christian Perspective On Sami Al-Arian (3/3)
Mar 3, 2005
Kendra Gayle Lee*
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Christians are called upon to be stewards of peace. We cannot turn our backs on our brothers and sisters who are persecuted or in need of our compassion. Our united voice against injustice must begin in our own community.
On Feb. 20, 2003, Dr. Sami Al-Arian was arrested at his Tampa home in a predawn raid by federal agents. Since 1995 he had been the subject of a federal investigation stemming from his views in support of Palestinian human rights.
Before being imprisoned, Al-Arian, then a University of South Florida professor, worked as an advocate for the Muslim community as well as a voice for freedom and justice around the world. In 1990, he co-founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a research and academic institution dedicated to promoting dialogue between the Muslim and Western worlds.
Al-Arian attended briefings at the White House and Justice Department, advised several members of Congress and met both Presidents Clinton and Bush.
Al-Arian's arrest served as yet another indication that under the guise of fighting terrorism, the U.S. government is silencing political speech and expression protected under the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.
For two years Al-Arian has been held in a small concrete room, isolated from everyone but his co-defendant. Recently the co-defendant was sent to a different jail. Consequently, for more than five weeks, Al-Arian was completely isolated with almost no human contact. Is this equitable treatment for a man who has not been proved guilty of any crime by a court of law?
Al-Arian has not had adequate access to his attorneys, even as his trial date approaches. If he and his attorneys are not able to prepare for his defense, how can he get a fair trial?
In America, the rule of law protects those accused of any crime and considers them innocent until proven guilty. We must ensure that pretrial imprisonment respects this basic principle of law, especially in allowing accused persons access to legal counsel to prepare their defense.
As Christians, we should be concerned about the harsh and unjust conditions of Al-Arian's pretrial imprisonment. Our voices should be united, urging that we bring these conditions up to the standards of our Constitution and the moral and spiritual values of America.
*Kendra Gayle Lee of Tampa is a member of Friends for Human Rights, a local organization that focuses on promoting peace and social justice.