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Cited by Pinellas Park, now toilet makes a statement

A man cited for a toilet in his yard adds a sign about the Koran. The city says it's one man's embarrassing political opinion.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published July 27, 2005


PINELLAS PARK - Abdeslam Rahmouni was horrified and offended at the sight of the toilet in the yard on 62nd Avenue.

It was not the toilet per se. It was the sign in red letters on a white background: "Koran flush 1 p.m."

People should not do that, he said, when he called the St. Petersburg Times to complain.

Rahmouni was not the only one offended by the display. City officials, who have long worked to erase the stereotype of Pinellas Park as being "redneck," were outraged. The city is home to the largest mosque in Pinellas County.

"I'm embarrassed to have it out there," Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson said.

"I hope citizens realize this is just one individual's opinion and it's not what Pinellas Park thinks," he said.

City spokesman Tim Caddell also condemned the display, saying it could undo much of the progress the city has made in recent years.

"You make all these efforts to be a sensitive, inclusive community and it just takes one," Caddell said. "That's not representative of Pinellas Park. It's one individual who wants to get attention for himself."

Gustafson said he knew Mike Allen was planning something because he called the city manager a month or more ago to ask if he could put a political display on city property.

"I said, "No you can't do that on city property.'. . . You can do it on private property," Gustafson said.

For Allen, the owner of the toilet, it's all a matter of political speech, no matter how offensive to some people.

"I thought I'd make a political statement, and that was my political statement," Allen said.

Allen's original thought was to use the toilet as a Memorial Day display. He would drop pictures of Osama bin Laden and pages from the Koran one by one into the toilet. The act, he said, was a way to honor those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in Iraq since the war began. It was also retribution, he said, for what Allen sees as a failure of Muslim clerics to object to the terrorism of Islamic extremists.

Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was distressed to hear of Allen's display.

Allen is wrong, he said, in thinking that Muslims have failed to condemn the attacks and terrorism.

"We've been very vocal. We've condemned it," Bedier said. "This is just a sign of the times here in America where there's a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there."

Some folks, Bedier said, choose to ignore that simply to carry out their own bigotry.

"They're looking for excuses or justification," Bedier said.

Allen's fight is not only with Islamic terrorists, it's also with Pinellas Park's code enforcement department, which cited him for having the toilet in his yard before the sign was put on it.

Allen said he thinks the citation was a bit of selective enforcement because he has recently appeared at council meetings and criticized the city. "The code Nazis are on me like stink on poo poo," Allen said.

Allen, who received a $183 ticket for the toilet, said code enforcement has "tortured and harassed (me) even more than the people over in Gitmo" for speaking out once in a while.

Gustafson said that code enforcement had not singled out Allen.

"Oh, come on," Gustafson said. "Look at his yard. Come on. It's on a main street. (It's) not hard to see. Just go by his house."

But now that the toilet has become a political statement, the city will likely leave it alone.

"You're allowed to have freedom of speech," Gustafson said. But if it reverts to a mere toilet, "we'll probably pick it up."

[Last modified July 27, 2005, 01:05:14]


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