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USA vs Al-Arian
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Instructor promotes Al-Arian documentary (3/24)

March 24, 2008
USF Oracle
By Christine Gibson

Link: Click here

Sami Al-Arian, a former professor in USF's College of Engineering who was arrested in 2003 on charges of supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, will face a grand jury either today or Tuesday for refusing to testify in a hearing that took place Thursday.

His case has received renewed national and international attention, partly thanks to a documentary being promoted by a former USF staffer.

Mel Underbakke, former instructor and research assistant in the College of Education at USF, is touring the country screening the film, USA vs. Al-Arian. The film focuses on the effects of the five-year trial on Al-Arian's family.

Underbakke taught English as a second language at USF from 1983 to 2007. After leaving USF, Underbakke taught at Hillsborough Community College for a semester but took this semester off to show the film. The tour is sponsored by the Social Action Committee of the First United Church of Tampa and the Plant City-based organization Friends of Human Rights.

Underbakke and Al-Arian met when Underbakke taught at the English Language Institute at USF. The institute had many Middle Eastern students, and Al-Arian often visited them. In addition, Al-Arian's mosque and Underbakke's church collaborated on events. She is also close friends with Al-Arian's wife, Nahla.

The documentary was directed by Line Halvorsen and produced by Jan Dalchow, two filmmakers from Norway. The filmmakers met Al-Arian and his wife at a screening of a film about Palestine at the First United Methodist Church in Tampa. Coincidentally, the filmmakers happened to be in Tampa during Al-Arian's trial, and they became interested in the case.

Al-Arian's daughter, Laila Al-Arian, said the film does a good job of depicting the effect of the trial on her family.

"We felt like it really did accurately portray the case. I think the director did a good job in explaining the situation, which can be kind of complicated for people who never heard of my father and the case," she said.

Underbakke, who attended Al-Arian's trial, described him as someone who built bridges.

"Right after 9/11, he invited a lot of churches to programs at his mosque. He organized an interfaith memorial service," she said. "He did outreach a lot."

Rev. Warren Clark, of the First United Church in Tampa, worked with Al-Arian on several social justice issues in the community. He describes his friendship with Al-Arian as a "privilege."

"The real privilege is that when he was on trial here on Tampa, I had the privilege of visiting with him each week in the jail during those 15 months," Clark said. "I got to know him and his family members very well. I also organized about 15 members of the clergy to visit with me so that people got to know him as a human being and not just the person that the media hounded on."

The film, Underbakke said, deals with issues of critical importance to Americans.

"I think the film is very important because you can see from the film that Sami's rights are not being given to him here. It also addresses the fact that this is happening to a lot of other people, and it could happen to many more," she said. "I think it's important that Americans realize what's happening and speak about it."

The tour includes stops in Kentucky, Maryland, Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, and Underbakke plans to take the film to Nevada, Oregon and Seattle as well. Underbakke said that the screening in Tampa - sponsored by the Council on American Islamic Relations - received a standing ovation from its sold-out audience. It was also shown at the University during the fall to a sold-out crowd of 350 in the ballroom.

Al-Arian is taking part in a third hunger strike, forgoing food and water, which began March 3. His lawyer said that he has lost 30 pounds since starting the fast and is showing signs of "advanced dehydration," according to the New York Times. Underbakke said Al-Arian's strike is the result of frustration related to his arrest and sentencing.

Laila Al-Arian said the family is worried about his health.

"We're all very worried about him, but we all understand why he has to do what he's doing. It's not unprecedented for a political prisoner to go on a hunger strike," she said. "He went on a hunger strike last year and lost 55 pounds. He looked like a Holocaust victim, so thin and so frail. It wasn't until he really put his life in danger that we convinced him to stop."

Underbakke is one of the few faculty and staff members at USF who has come forward in support of the former professor.

"I think everybody was afraid to say anything, especially when he was arrested. People knew he was innocent, they were still afraid to say anything," she said. "You hear from a lot of people that work there that they're afraid to say anything."

The film has received several awards, including Best Documentary at the Norwegian Documentary Film Festival in 2007 and Best Film at the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival in 2007.

Laila Al-Arian hopes USF students will take an interest in the case.

"I think they should become involved because he was a professor there," she said. "He spent so much of his life educating people and educating students, and the least we can do is fight for him and defend his rights. This case isn't about Palestine or Israel anymore, or any statement my father made. It's about the rule of law."

Documents & Releases

Statement of Chairs of American Muslim Task-Force on Civil Rights and Elections  (AMT) and  Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Howard Zinn Statement on Professor Al-Arian



March 2000

December 2005alarian.jpg

January 2009

To be patriotic is to be able to question government policy in times of crisis.
To be patriotic is to stand up for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in times of uncertainty and insecurity.
To be patriotic is to  speak up against the powerful in defense of the weak and the voiceless.
To be patriotic is to be willing to pay the price to preserve our freedoms, dignity, and rights.
To be patriotic is to
challenge the abuses of the PATRIOT Act.
From a speech by Dr. Al-Arian


UFF Summary: Al-Arian and USF


Announcement of Book: The Al-Arian Reader

A new compilation of all relevant articles to be released soon by the National Liberty Fund

Selected Poems
by Sami Al-Arian

We Shall Rise

To Maya Angelou
Like the dream of the slave
You rise
And with the scream of the brave
I shall rise
In honoring the memory of your ancestors
You rise
With my stateless brothers and sisters
I shall rise
Like dust in the sunlight
You rise
And as ashes in a fiery night
I shall rise
You offend
Because of your existence
And I
For my resistance
You upset them
Recalling their past
And I
By holding steadfast
They may trod you in dirt
May cause me all the hurt
Inflict upon you excruciating pain
While they shut me up and detain
By they won't see you broken
Neither would my faith be forsaken
As you've never bowed your head
And never lowered your eyes
I'll continue to raise my fist
And hide my mother's cries
They may shoot you with their words
Cut me up with their swords
They may insult you with their eyes
Denigrate me with their lies
Trying to kill you with their hate
Bury me alive to seal my fate
But they'd certainly
Be shamed and fail
As the free chant and sing
On their march to prevail
So keep your head held high
As I follow you and try
And keep your beautiful smile
As I walk my first mile
They'll pressure and blame
Throw us in prison to control and tame
They'll exile and defame
Lynch us all or shoot and maim
Burn crosses with no shame
Target our children in a dirty game
By why is that a surprise?
Despite their evil and terror
Their falsehood and lies
You shall rise
And I shall rise
You're the black ocean
Leaping and wide
I'm the Mediterranean
With a stormy tide
Staying together
Side by side
It's no surprise
We shall rise
Surely shall rise
We together shall rise
No Longer Afraid
For us to feel "secure"
What price is being paid?
If living in freedom
Why are we afraid?
Fear is everywhere
All around
Perhaps irrational
But without any bound
You can see it on our faces
Sense it in our eyes
You can hear it in our whispers
Feel it in our cries
More>>No Longer Afraid
The Bird and The Vulture
The bird was chirping
In a house on a tree
But the vulture was angry
Because it was free
When the bird is singing
The vulture ain't safe
More>>The Bird and The Vulture
The Smile of Freedom
He looked like
A body-builder
Tall, tough, and full
All muscles and no fat
His mind was simple
Suited to follow orders
No questions asked
Acting mean and mechanical
Like any bureaucrat
More>>The Smile ...
In the Name of Freedom
In the name of freedom
We shall rule the world
To spread democracy
And set you free
In the name of freedom
We’ll descend on you
To make you civilized
Modern and orderly
More>>In the Name ...
The Accused: Franz Kafka Meets George Orwell in 21st Century America
Act I: The Mother of all Evidence
Act II- Weapons of Mass Deception
Act III: Silencing of the Lambs
Act IV: Attacks of the Wolves
Act V: Occupied Territory
Act VI: Police State
Act VII: Official Obituary
Act VIII: A Close Encounter of the Scariest Kind
Act IX: The Inquisition
Act X- Conspiracy Theory
Act XI- Secret Trials
Act XII- Silent Pain and Teary Eyes
Act XIII- True Patriot Acts
Do Not Sign
Rights are not for sale
History is not kind
On those who sell their people out,
Betray their cause,
Surrender their land
To tow the line
Do not sign
More>>Do Not Sign
Rachel Corrie: Daughter of Palestine
The most gentle
Amongst all honorable
Had a spirit
As dazzling as
The garden of
More>>Daughter of Palestine
Ole Jerusalem
O Ole Jerusalem
I feel your pain
I hear your cries
The light thunder
In the darkness
And the heavy rain
I see the steady bleeding
Of your wound
With its mark and stain
More>>Ole Jerusalem
Patrick Henry
A revolutionary
At heart
A patriot
From the start
Loved by his country
To the core
Defended freedom
Even more
Hated arrogance
In shape and tone
Fought tyranny
With every bone
He was the conscience
Of his people
Striking fear in the enemy
And made it feeble
More>> Patrick Henry
An overwhelming feeling
Of bitterness
Of hatred and rage
Trapped in a cage
Disappointment and anger
Continuing to linger
Wounding of dignity
Violating your virginity
More>> Injustice
Political Riddles
He sees the world as black and white
His solution to every quandary is fight with might
The economy will not stimulate
Because he can’t articulate
While jobs are gone
He says, “bring ‘em on.”
Who is he?
He likes to be called the General
The head of an agency that’s federal
If you spit on the sidewalk
He’ll send the Incredible Hulk
He hates to cite truth or fact
Because he’s busy promoting his unpatriotic act
He frequents TV cameras with a smash
The first part of his last name sounds like trash
Who is he?
He is the ideal dutiful poodle they say
From an empire where the sun did not set one day
He adores his cowboy friend and considers him a fan
And insists: I’m nobody’s yes-man
When the cowboy says no, I say no
Who is he?
More>>Political Riddles