God I Wish I Didn’t Resemble a Terrorist Sympathizer

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“The first time it happened was in 2002. A friend saw a picture of former University of South Florida professor and alleged terrorism supporter Sami Al-Arian and did a double take because he thought it was me. He thought the resemblance was funny. I didn’t.” Bob Andelman, left, writes in the St. Petersburg Times.

“Not that time, or the second, third or 100th time.

The more attention Al-Arian’s case got in the media, the more often it happened. Even I could see why: The wire-rim glasses, classic bald head, the shape of the ears and, more particularly, the way we shaved our salt-and-pepper beards were all eerily similar. We’re even close in age; Al-Arian is 47, I’m 46.

Al-Arian’s case has affected my ability to travel freely, too. No one ever looked twice at me in an airport until Al-Arian’s face started making the front page. Suddenly I was getting extra security checks, being pulled aside for extra wanding, questioning and delays. I was never strip-searched, but I always wondered if that might be coming. The hassles finally relented when I bought a pair of funky blue plastic-frame glasses that looked nothing like the wire frames and oval lenses Al-Arian and I apparently both preferred.

Curiously, it didn’t matter to anyone that Al-Arian had been in jail for three years on charges that he raised money that went to terrorist organizations.

It also didn’t matter that one of us was Jewish (me) and one of us was allegedly interested in killing Jews (him).

And it probably wouldn’t have mattered to anyone who mistook me for him that I was somewhat sympathetic to his plight, first being suspected for years but never charged, then held in jail even though a jury acquitted him on eight of 17 charges and deadlocked on the rest. While I couldn’t be more disgusted by Al-Arian’s angry, misguided politics, we are supposed to be a nation of laws and due process. Get accused, get your right to trial. Get acquitted, go home. That’s our system, whether he believes in its righteousness or not.