Can only Muslims be terrorists?

Kamran Memon and Parvez Ahmed Special to Hernando


Published: Jun 26, 2003

Robert Jay Goldstein is not a “Jewish terrorist.”

After all, neither God nor his prophets ever condoned

the murder of innocent human beings. If a Jew engages

in terrorism, the blame falls on him, not on his

religion. That much we can all agree on. But that is

where our paths diverge.

In August 2002 ,Goldstein was arrested near his home

in St. Petersburg, Florida. In his possession were 40

weapons, 30 explosive devices, a list of 50 mosques

and a detailed plan to bomb an Islamic school.

Contrary to the suggestion from defense lawyers that

Goldstein is mentally ill, sheriff’s Detective Cal

Dennie characterized him as “a smart guy” who “knew

his stuff.”

Clearly Goldstein, a terrorist, was capable of

inflicting unimaginable harm. In chilling details, his

mission plan stated his desire to “open fire on all

‘rags’ and then bolt out and let the devices do the


His motive was to “to do something for ‘his’ people,”

in retaliation for 9/11 and the ongoing Israeli-Arab

conflict. His goal was to “kill all rags” with “zero

residual presence.”

Despite Goldstein’s impressive arsenal and obvious

intent, federal prosecutors say he is no terrorist, as

his actions were not aimed at altering government


But the U.S. Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as

“acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of

the criminal laws of the United States or of any

State; and appear to be intended to intimidate or

coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of

a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect

the conduct of a government by mass destruction,

assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily

within the territorial jurisdiction of the United


Intent to alter government policy is only one part of

a fairly broad definition of domestic “terrorism.”

Federal prosecutors ultimately charged Goldstein with

lesser offenses of violating civil rights, attempting

to damage religious property, obstructing people in

the free exercise of religious beliefs and possessing

unregistered firearms. Based on the evidence, there is

no doubt that Goldstein would have received life in

prison had he been charged as a terrorist.

Goldstein will not spend his life in prison and that

worries many Muslim Americans. When he is released,

after serving his sentence of 12-and-a-half years, he

will be only 50 years old, still capable of inflicting

potential harm.

The Goldstein terror plot remains perplexing for many

other reasons. After his arrest, there was little

information available about accomplices who were at

large and remained a mortal threat to peace. The

Muslim community naturally wanted to take appropriate

measures to secure their mosques from being targeted

by any of Goldstein’s accomplices. Several pleas were

made to law enforcement authorities for full

disclosure of all mosques on Goldstein’s target list.

Federal and state authorities declined to honor these


American-Muslims, the targeted victims of this plot,

were never asked by the prosecution to testify, a

practice routine in criminal cases. In a surprising

move, prosecutors argued that community members should

not be allowed to speak in court. Only with the good

graces of sentencing Judges Moody and Kovachevich were

testimonies from the Muslim community made part of the

official record.

Contrast Goldstein to the case of another terrorist,

who happened to be Muslim, who also pled guilty for

plotting to blow up Florida Power & Light substations

and a National Guard Armory. His planning was not as

extensive as Goldstein’s, but federal prosecutors

charged the Muslim as a “terrorist.”

Do not get us wrong. We are not pleading for leniency

for terrorists who happen to be Muslims. We’re all

safer when they’re locked up. Such terrorists have no

hesitation to kill innocent human beings, Muslim or

non-Muslims, as they did on September 11, 2001.

What we are arguing is that non-Muslims should also be

punished as terrorists if they engage or conspire to

engage in terrorism. Such crimes should be taken just

as seriously, even when the intended victims are

“only” American Muslims.

After all, the life of a Muslim child is worth no less

than the life of a Jewish or Christian child. I hope

that’s something we can all agree on.

Kamran Memon is a Chicago civil rights attorney.

Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is Chairman of Board for the

Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic

Relations (CAIR-FL).

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