It has become a sort of trademark.
Controversial USF professor Sami Al-Arian stood Tuesday behind a bank of microphones and in front of a large American flag, giving camera crews and photographers the perfect shot.
But Al-Arian’s news conference was not called to discuss his now nationally famous case, but instead to provide reaction from Muslim community leaders upset about the media and government’s reaction to the arrest of Seminole podiatrist Robert Goldstein and his foiled plans to blow up Islamic landmarks in the Tampa Bay Area.
Goldstein was arrested August 22 by police who were responding to a domestic disturbance call. When officers entered Goldstein’s residence, they found a small arsenal of weapons, including assault rifles and homemade bombs.
In addition, investigators found plans describing how to carry out an attack and a list of Islamic centers located in the Tampa Bay region and throughout Florida.
According to a St. Petersburg Times report, Goldstein’s plan described his targets in chilling detail.
“OBJECTIVE: Kill all ‘rags’ at this Islamic Education Center – ZERO residual presence – maximum effect,” the plan said.
Al-Arian led the news conference sponsored by the Tampa Bay Coalition of Islamic Mosques and Education Centers at his Islamic Community of Tampa Bay.
After reading part of a statement, Al-Arian told the media and onlookers that the Goldstein case represents a double standard. He said media coverage and local reaction to the story quickly died away. Had it been a Muslim that planned the attacks, he said, the reaction would have been much stronger.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, if this was someone with (an Islamic name) and not Goldstein, there would be a national emergency,” Al-Arian said.
Al-Arian thanked the government for its response to the case, but called it “too little, too late.” Al-Arian said he also did not approve of the governor’s reaction to what he called a terrorist plot.
Al-Arian said Goldstein may have accomplices. He said he demands a meeting with the top FBI and ATF officials in the area to receive an update on the case.
“Why doesn’t the government come here and meet with us?” Al-Arian asked.
Area Islamic centers need protection from now through the Sept. 11 anniversary, Al-Arian said. He said the Jewish community should publicly condemn Goldstein’s actions and that local and national leaders, as well as the media, should end prejudiced reporting against Muslims.
“Every time there is a terrorist plot, if it doesn’t involve a Muslim it’s no longer a story,” Al-Arian said. “Mr. Goldstein is not referred to right now as a terrorist, but a quote, ‘podiatrist, mentally disturbed.’ That is what we call a double standard.”
After his statements, Al-Arian introduced leaders of local Muslim societies and academies, many of whom made passionate statements about the Goldstein arrest.
One speaker compared the current situation to 20th century persecutions of African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, saying both are examples of American terrorism.
James Muhammad also spoke of a Muslim double standard, comparing the situation to the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Muhammad said the media did not refer to Timothy McVeigh as the “Christian Tim McVeigh.”
“We implore you, stop reporting us in such a way it ignites fervor,” Muhammad said.
Aliyah O’Keeffe, a student at USF, also spoke at the news conference. She said her worries during the first few days of classes extend far beyond finding classrooms and buying books. She said her father works in a mosque targeted by Goldstein.
“It hurts my heart,” O’Keeffe said. “He looked at us as though we were not human beings.”
As for matters beyond the Goldstein affair, Al-Arian spoke briefly about the case of his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar. Al-Arian said he is disappointed in the government for not allowing Al-Najjar to fly commercial and thus “dumping” him in Lebanon. He said he fears Al-Najjar’s wife and children will now no longer be able to join him.