FAU to Open Can o' Worms -- er -- Middle East Institute

Florida Atlantic University just can't leave well enough alone. It's been much too long since the school was accused of harboring terrorists -- but a day without anti-Muslim hysteria is a day without sunshine.

Last week, the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, in conjunction with the Florida Society for Middle East Studies, announced the launch of a fundraising drive for a new Middle East Institute. It's a can of worms designed to attract plenty of birdbrained attention.

At least twice since 9/11, FAU has found itself in the hot seat over the political affiliations of its Muslim faculty members. In 2003, it was a Fulbright scholar with supposed ties to Hamas. The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank in Philadelphia, argued that Abu Sway, here on a one-year fellowship at FAU's Honors College campus in Jupiter, was perhaps tied to Hamas. Or, at the very least, Sway was vehemently anti-Israeli -- which is a capital crime only if you live in Boca Raton.

Critics had also raised a stink about Associate Professor of Computer Science Bassem Alhalabi, fingered by right-wing internet wags as having ties to a "radical mosque" in Boca -- he was a founding member the Islamic Center of Boca Raton. One of the Islamic Center's members, Rafiq Sabir, was arrested in 2005 for ties to Al-Qaeda, and a mosque spokesman, Daniel McBride, published anti-Semitic statements on the mosque's website.

Alhalabi's CV references included a letter from convicted terrorist Sami Amin Al-Arian, whom Alhalabi worked for as a research assistant at the University of South Florida. The rather luckless Al-Halahi was also falsely arrested outside his classroom in 2001 in a case of mistaken identity.

But rather than keep a low profile, FAU is jumping right into the fray. The new Institute, while not a degree program in the early years, will be bringing in some serious -- and undoubtedly controversial -- programming: films, lectures, conferences, workshops, and public intellectuals  to "raise awareness and an understanding of issues in the Middle East." If it also raises some local ire as a byproduct, isn't that what good universities are meant to be doing?

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