Some people liken Ahmed Bedier to the Rev. Al Sharpton: A rabble rouser, controversy seeker and media magnet.
Bedier, head of the leading Muslim advocacy group in Tampa, shrugs off the comparison. After all, his is not a national platform and, so far, he's avoided a political albatross like the 1987 Tawana Brawley incident that haunts Sharpton.
Still, at a time when many people look distrustfully at Muslims, Bedier realizes he can't afford missteps. He fights a dual battle for Muslims' rights and favorable public perception.
Some in the public have questioned the causes adopted by Bedier and the Central Florida chapter of the Council on American and Islamic Relations.
This summer, Bedier appeared to support Ahmed Mohamed and Youssef Megahed, two University of South Florida students who were arrested near a South Carolina naval base after authorities accused them of carrying low-grade explosives in their car. The men said they were just on a road trip with fireworks.
Responding to requests from Megahed's parents, Bedier told the media that the men deserved due process. Later authorities said Mohamed had made a video demonstrating how to turn a remote control toy into a detonator. Both men now face federal explosives charges.
With more information, Bedier said, he would have crafted a better response. Still, he has no regrets about speaking out early.
"The biggest Muslim organization in town saying 'We don't have a comment' on such a big story of the day sends the wrong message like they're hiding something," said Bedier, 33. "It's almost like choosing the lesser of two evils."
And Thursday, the parents of USF student Karim Moussaoui showed up on CAIR's doorstep. Bedier ordered CAIR staff members to take the couple, who were visiting from Morocco for their son's graduation, to a federal court appearance. He also told them how the American legal system worked. Moussaoui had been arrested earlier that morning on charges of violating his student visa by posing for a photograph holding a gun at a shooting range in July. He had visited the range with Megahed and Mohamed.
"All this stuff is not something that we planned, but every day it's something different," Bedier said. "Just because we're providing a service does not mean we are defending or supporting. We're a resource to many people. That's not un-American."
Also, recently CAIR rallied against the Pinellas County School system and law enforcement after Hannah Chehab, a sixth-grade girl, claimed a classmate had ripped off her head scarf in class and threatened to shoot her. Police ultimately dropped their investigation, declaring that there was insufficient information to substantiate Chehab's claims.
Bedier insists the decision by police to back off did not negate Chehab's complaint. CAIR did due diligence before taking on the case, he said.
"We interviewed the girl," Bedier said. "We looked at her report card. She looked like a good student. She's never been in any trouble, so we felt comfortable. We have no reason to doubt her story. ... We can't wait for a child like Hannah to be shot for us to take action. If people report matters to us and we think it's a major concern, our obligation is to take up those matters."