Friday, September 08, 2006

New York Muslims beset by suspicion

Jonathan Birchall:

The Muslim owner of the Dar-us-Salaam store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn was polite, but he didn't want to talk.

At the Firdous cosmetics shop next door, a bearded young Moroccan was equally wary, when asked how things had changed for the city's Muslims since the September 11 terror attacks.

"We get so many people coming and asking questions about this. My boss says it's best to say nothing. We just want to move on," he explains.

Five years after the attacks, the mood on Atlantic Avenue is guarded. New York survived the aftermath of the attacks without any major outbreaks of violence against Muslims or Arabs. But on Atlantic Avenue, and in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst and Sunnyside, things are not as they were.

Said Mahmoud, who operates a cart selling coffee, doughnuts and bagels in midtown Manhattan, says that following the attacks he was shocked to hear construction workers telling their friends waiting at his cart not to give their business to an Arab. "We were lucky we were not in some other country, where maybe they kill you," he says.

New York's Muslim community numbers about 600,000. The number of mosques in the city has grown from half a dozen in the early 1970s to more than 140. But after being shaken by the widespread detentions of suspected illegal immigrants that followed the 9/11 attacks, recent events have highlighted tensions.

In July, a New York court found Shahawar Matin Siraj, a 23-year old Pakistani immigrant, guilty of conspiring to blow up the city's Herald Square subway station, one of the city's busiest.

The Siraj case underlined the level of monitoring of some sections of the city's Muslims. Charges were brought against Siraj after a police informer began operating in his mosque.

"Muslims now see themselves as being put in this category of suspicion," says Louis Cristillo, who heads a Columbia University teaching college project on issues affecting Muslim youth in New York. "There is de facto racial profiling in airports and public transportation."


Why We Cannot Rely on Moderate Muslims


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