Archive for September 7th, 2010

For US Muslims, a 9/11 Anniversary Like No Other

By Rachel Zoll for The Associated Press

American Muslims are boosting security at mosques, seeking help from leaders of other faiths and airing ads underscoring their loyalty to the United States — all ahead of a 9/11 anniversary they fear could bring more trouble for their communities.

Their goal is not only to protect Muslims, but also to prevent them from retaliating if provoked. One Sept. 11 protest in New York against the proposed mosque near ground zero is expected to feature Geert Wilders, the aggressively anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker. The same day in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran.

“We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don’t want to create a hysteria,” among Muslims, said Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. “Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It’s just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion.”

On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America will hold a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington “to address the growing tide of fear and intolerance” in the furor over the planned New York mosque.

Islamic centers in many cities are intensifying surveillance and keeping closer contact with law enforcement. Adding to Muslim concern is a fluke of the lunar calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a joyous holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will fall around Sept. 11 this year. Muslim leaders fear festivities could be misinterpreted as celebrating the 2001 terror strikes.

“We’re telling everyone to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious to authorities and call us,” said Ramzy Kilic of the Tampa, Fla., chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Other efforts around 9/11 aim to fight bigotry. Muslims will clean parks, feed the homeless, and give toys to sick children as part of Muslim Serve, a national campaign to demonstrate Islamic commitment to serving humanity.

Separately, groups are distributing ads to combat persistent suspicions about Islam. One spot, called “My Faith, My Voice,” features American Muslims saying, “I don’t want to take over this country.”

Sept. 11 anniversaries have always been challenging for U.S. Muslims, who have been under scrutiny since the attacks. This year, the commemoration follows a stunning summer in which opposition to a planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site escalated into a national uproar over Islam, extremism and religious freedom.

Islamic centers as far away as Tennessee and California faced protests and vandalism. In western New York, police said a group of teenagers recently yelled obscenities, set off a car alarm and fired a shotgun during two nights of drive-by harassment at a small-town mosque near Lake Ontario.

Usama Shami, board chairman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said a new mosque the congregation has been building for years drew little attention until recently, when some resistance emerged in the neighborhood and from some in city government. Recently, vandals broke into the new building, spilled paint on the floor and broke expensive windows.

Shami believes the ground zero dispute is partly to blame for the trouble, along with passions unleashed by Arizona’s strict new law that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

“All of these issues came at the same time,” Shami said. “When things like that happen, I think they bring out the worst in some people.”

On Sept. 11 in Chicago, Zeenat Rahman, a 34-year-old native of the city, will visit a local nursing home with Muslim and non-Muslim friends to spend time with residents and help serve a meal.

“This is when people are going to look at our community, and when they do, what are they going to see?” said Rahman, a policy director for the Interfaith Youth Core, which promotes pluralism. “Sometimes, saying `Islam means peace,’ feels a little defensive and apologetic, whereas service is really core to our faith.”

Unity Productions Foundation, a Washington-area group that specializes in films about Islam and Muslim Americans, will hold an interfaith talk on Sept. 11 at the Washington Jewish Community Center.

Speakers include Monem Salam, the subject of a Unity Productions film titled, “On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly.” Unity recently launched groundzerodialogue.org, where visitors can view films and use them for community discussion about Islam in the U.S.

Salam, 38, of Bellingham, Wash., usually spends the Eid weekend with his wife and three young children, but said he persuaded his wife he had to participate in the event.

“I have to leave them and go across the country to answer questions about Islam,” said Salam, a portfolio manager who was 4 years old when his family left Pakistan for the U.S. “It’s unfortunate. It’s the time that we live in.”

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Angelina Jolie Meets Flood Victims in Pakistan

By Inamur Rehman for The Associated Press

American movie star Angelina Jolie met flood victims in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday and appealed to the international community to provide aid needed to help the country recover from its worst natural disaster.

The flow of aid money has stalled in recent days, and officials expressed hope the two-day visit by Jolie — who serves as a “goodwill ambassador” for the U.N.’s refugee agency — will convince foreign countries and individuals to open their wallets.

The 35-year-old actress said she met with many people whose lives have been devastated by the floods, including mothers who lost their children and an elderly Pakistani couple who feared they would never be able to rebuild the home they lost.

“I am very moved by them and I hope that I am able to, today and tomorrow, be able to do something to help bring attention to the situation for all of the people in need in Pakistan,” Jolie told reporters after visiting a refugee camp in the Jalozai area.

She toured the area wearing a long black robe and a black headscarf adorned with a thin red stripe — the kind of conservative clothing worn by many Muslim women in Pakistan.

The floods began in the northwest at the end of July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and slowly surged south along the Indus River, swallowing up hundreds of villages and towns and killing more than 1,700 people. Another 17 million have been affected by the floods, and many will need emergency assistance to survive.

The United Nations issued an appeal for $460 million in emergency funds on Aug. 11, but only $294 million, or 64 percent, has been received so far, and donations have more or less dried up in recent days.

Ajay Chhibber, a U.N. assistant secretary general, said he hopes Jolie’s visit will have “a very big impact” on the inflow of aid money and will keep people focused on the crisis.

“We need more … well-known figures who can keep the spotlight and focus because people tend to forget internationally,” said Chhibber, who is also the U.N. development agency’s regional director for Asia. He spoke to reporters during a visit to Islamabad.

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