Questioning the present

Looking back and asking “What if?” oftentimes serves no purpose and is almost always frustrating.
But for the sake of nothing, what if things were different?
What if Sami Al-Arian had been more familiar with Bill O’Reilly’s cutthroat, sensationalistic approach to journalism? What if he had never stepped foot in the local Fox affiliate’s studio and hooked up to a microphone and earpiece?
Many believe he would not have been ousted had he not appeared on that show. I tend to agree with that assumption.
Had millions of Americans not watched Al-Arian defending his now infamous “Death to Israel” speech on The O’Reilly Factor, what, then, would have been the source of the disruptive environment for which he was placed on paid leave?
Speaking of “Death to Israel,” what if Al-Arian would have chosen his words a bit more carefully? What if he would have said what he says he meant: “Death to occupation.” Would people view him differently?
What’s said is said. But however frustrating, more what-ifs remain.
What if the Board of Regents never made the transformation into individual boards of trustees? Would, then, Judy Genshaft still be facing the type of pressure she is feeling from USF’s board, whose chairman calls Al-Arian a cancer. A board which voted 12 – 1 to fire him in December?
What if Al-Arian had opted, like so many other young Palestinians, to go to college in Egypt and become a doctor? After getting his PhD from North Carolina State in 1985, what if he would have chosen a different university at which to teach?
What if Sept. 11 never happened?
What if Betty Castor was still president? Would she have done anything differently? She had placed Al-Arian on paid leave before. Would she have done it again? Or would she have trusted the judgment of the university-hired lawyer who cleared Al-Arian’s name for USF in a 100-page report when she was president?
And if the situation became hairy, as it has now – with threats of censure, speakers canceling lectures and professors looking elsewhere for jobs – would Castor have passed the buck?
What if Genshaft, who believes that Al-Arian used academic freedom as a cover for terrorist connections, fired him in August when she had the chance, instead of leaving it up to a judge? Who knows.
But let’s not forget who is at the heart of this saga. Suppose Ramadan Abdullah Shallah never abandoned his post as an economics teacher at USF. Then, maybe, he wouldn’t have gone back to Syria to become leader of the one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world.
And the FBI would have had no reason to raid Al-Arian’s World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a Middle-Eastern think tank a federal judge would later designate as scholarly and reputable.
But that’s not how it happened. Shallah went back to Damascus, and for reasons Al-Arian says are unknown to him, became secretary general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But what if things were different?
Judy Genshaft could probably get a lot more sleep at night and dedicate much more of her time to issues unrelated to Sami Al-Arian.
And you could be reading this column in the back of one of his classrooms.

Ryan Meehan is The Oracle’s editor in