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. . .
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. (MORE)


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