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Rallying for freedom

The Muslim Students Association and the Coalition of Progressive Student Organizations joined forces Wednesday to march in protest of the much-publicized firing of professor Sami Al-Arian.

The protesters called for the reinstatement of Al-Arian and questioned the decisions of the Board of Trustees and university President Judy Genshaft.

Bisher Tarabishy, president for MSA, said the goal of the march was to make students aware of the plight of Al-Arian.”We’re trying to raise awareness about Dr. Sami’s dismissal and why it violated the principles of tenure and academic freedom,” Tarabishy said. “I think (Genshaft) was punishing Dr. Sami for the actions of a third party.”

Tarabishy said he believes the disruption to the university was caused by people outside of the university and should not be blamed on Al-Arian. Tarabishy said Al-Arian has no responsibility regarding how people may react to what he says.

“By punishing Dr. Sami we are punishing the victim,” Tarabishy said.

Along with Tarabishy, about 40 people marched in the protest, many of whom carried signs and chanted for the reinstatement of Al-Arian. The march began at the Bull Market and visited Genshaft’s office in the Administration building, the Student Government office in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, and concluded at the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.

A notable participant in the march was Nahla Al-Arian, the controversial professor’s wife. As the protest reached the office of Student Government, Mrs. Al-Arian spoke harshly about Student Government President Mike Griffin to an office worker who later refused comment.

“My opinion of him is that he is an opportunist,” Mrs. Al-Arian said. “To the (student) government, I wish you good luck (in working with him).”

Before the march, Mrs. Al-Arian said she was happy to see so many protesters who turned out in support of her husband.

“I feel proud,” she said. “I feel hopeful that America is not going to forget about its moral values, about the Constitution, about freedom of speech and expression.”

Mrs. Al-Arian said it is for those values that students arrived to protest.

“They care about these values, and they are not going to let the administration destroy them,” she said.

As the protest reached the president’s office, and later the Student Government offices, employees looked on in surprise. However, student response as the march snaked around campus was minimal.

One exception was student Danielle Higginbotham, who followed the protest carrying a sign and shouting in support of Genshaft. Higginbotham, who cried and spoke emotionally, said as a Jewish student she wanted to show support for the president.

“I don’t understand how a campus can support someone who has been connected with the Hamas and who has been connected with the jihad,” Higginbotham said. “It’s kind of like saying it’s OK David Duke was a KKK leader, and it was OK he said those things. It would be the same as if they let him on campus.”

Higginbotham said she doesn’t believe allowing Al-Arian to continue teaching on campus would be a safe or proper move.”It’s just not a safe place for the American students or Jewish students on campus to have someone who has said such things,” she said.

Higginbotham said, while she respects the protesters’ right to march, she felt that she had to react.

“I’m not going to sit back and not say anything to what they believe,” she said. “I can’t sit back and say it’s OK when I am totally, 100 percent in support of Judy Genshaft.”

Tarabishy said the issue is not about what Al-Arian said, but that he was refused his right to academic freedom.

Tarabishy said he believes the correct solution to the problem is to reinstate Al-Arian. He said he hopes people who saw the protest will better understand the current situation.

“We want (people) to understand what President Genshaft did goes against the principles of academic freedom,” he said. “In the long term it harms the interest of the university and the university community. If a tenured professor can be fired for what he says, then what’s the point of tenure and how does that make our university look?”

  • Contact Rob Brannonat