Al-Arian documentary opens in Norway -- by Seán Kinane
Last week, the new documentary, USA vs. Al-Arian premiered at theatres across Norway. The film details the trial, plea agreement and sentencing of Dr. Sami Al-Arian and focuses on how his family is being affected. Some members of his family spent last week in Norway to educate the public on the case. WMNF's Seán Kinane traveled to Oslo to find out why there is such a difference in attitude between Norwegians and Americans regarding the Al-Arian case. He files this report.
Outside the Norwegian Parliament, light snow flurries fell on a chilly Oslo afternoon. But inside, Member of Parliament Agot Valle hosted a private screening of this new film for her fellow members of Parliament. She said that since 9/11 Americans have been consumed by fear.
“Because ever since September 11th I’ve been aware of the danger that fear can cause. And I’ve been aware that giving in for fear, as Franklin D. Roosevelt warned the American people not to give in to fear. Giving in to fear may lead us to infringe human rights, civil rights, freedom of speech; the basis of democracy.”
Another Member of Parliament in attendance, Olav Gunnar Ballo, is Vice President of Parliament’s lower chamber and a member of the justice committee. He is concerned about how Dr. Al-Arian and others have been treated in recent years.
“If we don’t keep up with the human rights situation in our own country and in USA and just fight [for] human rights, we will lose as a democracy and USA will lose as a democracy. And we are allied with USA. So we are really concerned about this development. We don’t like to see that people have their human rights treated this way, it’s not good at all.”
Gerald Folkvord leads Amnesty International Norway’s campaign against human rights violations in the ‘war on terror.’ Last week A.I. Norway hosted a screening of the film followed by a reception hosted by the Nobel Peace Center where Norwegians could speak with the Al-Arians about their case. Earlier this month Amnesty wrote a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales questioning the motivations of Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who has called Dr. Al-Arian twice recently to testify before grand juries in Virginia. Folkvord said that Amnesty condemns the government’s treatment of Al-Arian while in prison.
“All that amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. One of the things that Amnesty has repeatedly pointed out was that this very much looked like just a means of punishing him for his attitudes. In our last letter to the Attorney General, Amnesty also took up the strong impression that some attorneys dealing with the case had given that they were driven also by anti-Islamic sentiments and that these anti-Islamic sentiments were a recurring issue in the case and this was very concerning.”
WMNF asked Norwegians who had seen the film why they thought that attitudes about human rights and civil rights seem so different between Norway and America. Astrid Sand said that paranoia is not as common in Norway.
“Well, you have some people in Norway that are very conservative, but generally I think Norway and the United States are a bit different, you know, we’re a social democratic country and we’re small. It’s not so easy to hide these cases because we all are talking about them. There’s a difference between Norway and America. It is. There’s not that big a paranoia in Norway.”
Denise Lian has a Masters degree in middle eastern and north African studies. She was concerned about America’s treatment of Dr. Al-Arian.
“It seems like they targeted him because they don’t want highly educated Palestinians or Muslims to be that strong…. they’re trying to make the Muslim community in America silent and just scare other people from joining this, maybe you can say, ‘battle’ for human rights. If this can happen in America, it can probably happen anywhere.”
Cristine Delaney is from Massachusetts but is pursuing a master’s degree in human rights in the law faculty at University of Oslo.
“The trend in the United States and this erosion of civil liberties is a very interesting topic and very frightening, especially from a legal standpoint.”
The film’s director, Line Halvorsen, used to live in Lakeland, but she moved back to Norway to complete the documentary. She also noticed a difference in concern for human rights violations between the people of America and Norway and hoped that the opening of her film, which has been positively reviewed, will start a debate in Norway on where to strike the balance between civil liberties and security.
“In Norway we have some suggestions to change the laws where the police would take these so-called terrorism cases out of the court and treat them in secret courts and I think it’s really important that we have a debate if that’s the kind of society we want.”
Dr. Al-Arian is in the fifth week of the hunger strike he started to protest being called for a second time to testify before a Virginia grand jury. He is being held in contempt of court, which may extend his prison term beyond his scheduled April release and deportation date.
As a form of disclosure, this reporter has done human rights activism with Amnesty International and other groups, including specifically advocating for the rights of Dr. Al-Arian.
To find out more about the film, visit its website.
For WMNF News, reporting from Oslo, Norway, I’m Seán Kinane
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