This is not a political blog, but it’s the space I have, so occasionally there will be rants on issues or people I feel strongly about. This is one, about my friend Sam.
Sam Husseini and I went to college together back in the 1980s. I tried to teach him to play guitar, he tried to get me to read Chomsky. Sam grew up in New York. When Sam and his father became naturalized US citizens during Sam’s junior year, Osama Farid Husseini briefly became Samuel Frank Hennessy; we bought him a bottle of liquor and a book of Irish pub jokes so he could learn the heritage of his temporarily adopted surname.
After graduation, Sam, who majored in Applied Mathematics (Computer Science) worked at Moody’s, which he disliked, but rather than taking a job offer with JP Morgan gave up his corporate career for independent journalism. It was a radical career shift, but characteristic of Sam made with reflection and thought. For Sam is, as much as anyone I know, a reasonable person. For about a year after that choice Sam stayed with me and some friends in New Haven, where he did some substitute teaching, and traveled back and forth to New York. During this time he was beginning his long work with FAIR, the persistent New York based media watchdog group. Eventually, Sam went to serve as Communications Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and then the Institute for Public Accuracy, which tries to provide alternative voices to the echo chamber of well funded think tanks inside the Beltway.
Sam was one of two groomsman at my wedding, and we’ve remained close despite global movement. We don’t always agree on politics, but that’s at least partly because Sam is fearless. Being a liberal (as I am) is much easier than advocating radical alternatives (as Sam does), especially when your vocation is to speak truth to power. But, once again, Sam is a person of reason and hope, optimistic about individual ideals and imaginative about politics: see his cleverly conceived VotePact for an example.
Just over a week ago, Sam was expelled from the National Press Club, where he was a longstanding member, for agitating. He asked a question about the legitimacy of the Saudi government to the former head of Saudi intelligence. Imagine, a journalist asking an uncomfortable question! Now, I can’t say I would have asked the question Sam asked in exactly the way he asked it, but at heart it’s a damn good question. The context, as Sam introduced his question, was the legitimacy of the Syrian government. Many mainstream journalists are asking questions about the legitimacy of the Syrian government. Those questions are being asked now, and not earlier, because the governments that have been supporting Syria are only now unwilling to defend or ignore Syria’s actions, as it turns it guns on its own people and their aspirations. The guns fire, the governments withdraw their support, and journalists at the National Press Club are able to discuss whether Syria’s government ever had basis for legitimacy.
If the Syrian government’s basis for legitimacy was always a fiction, what of the Saudis? In Chomsky’s anarchism, and perhaps Sam’s radicalism, the answer might be self-evident but apparently the question itself was too much for the National Press Club, who want their luncheons digested undisturbed. Perhaps the National Press Club only wants their members to ask questions wrapped in shiny packages, with “pretty please”, the way we teach children to make requests of adults. That was my first thought. But they don’t. As Sam points out in his open letter to the Press Club, he had been at least as animated and vigorous when asking questions of the Austrian neo-Nazi Jörg Haider, with a hearty support from the NPC moderator. So the problem for the NPC is clearly not who is doing the agitating, but who is being agitated.
Despite the title of this post, I’m not sure what ordinary, non-journalists can do to support Sam, except make our voices heard. I’m open to suggestions.