Posts Tagged ‘ 9/11 ’

Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice

As Reported by Sharon Otterman for The New York Times

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He was buried after the Sept. 11 attacks with full honors from the New York Police Department, and proclaimed a hero by the city’s police commissioner. He is cited by name in the Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor.

And Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress, was brought to tears during a Congressional hearing in March while describing how the man, a Pakistani-American from Queens, had wrongly been suspected of involvement in the attacks, before he was lionized as a young police cadet who had died trying to save lives.

Despite this history, Mohammad Salman Hamdani is nowhere to be found in the long list of fallen first responders at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Nor can his name be found among those of victims whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the north tower, where his body was finally discovered in 34 parts.

Instead, his name appears on the memorial’s last panel for World Trade Center victims, next to a blank space along the south tower perimeter, with the names of others who did not fit into the rubrics the memorial created to give placements meaning. That section is for those who had only a loose connection, or none, to the World Trade Center.

The placement of Mr. Hamdani’s name has fueled the continuing concern and anger about how his legacy was treated soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, when, apparently because of his Pakistani roots, Muslim religion and background as a biochemistry major at Queens College, he fell under suspicion.

His name appeared on a flier faxed to police stations; newspaper headlines amplified his status as a person wanted for questioning.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” his mother, Talat Hamdani, 60, said last week at her home in Lake Grove on Long Island, her voice filled with pain. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

To Mrs. Hamdani, that her son would not be recognized at the memorial as an official first responder was the latest in a series of injustices that began with a knock on her door from two police officers in October 2001. She, her husband and two other sons had been searching morgues and hospitals for his body. But the officers wanted to ask questions, and they asked for a picture from the refrigerator that showed Mr. Hamdani, 23 when he died, at his Queens College graduation next to a friend who Mrs. Hamdani had told them was from Afghanistan.

It was around the same time that Mr. Hamdani’s official police cadet picture was circulating through police stations on a flier with the handwritten words “Hold and detain. Notify: major case squad,” The New York Times later reported. Investigators visited Mr. Hamdani’s dentist and confiscated his dental records, his mother learned.

It was not until March 2002, when the family was finally informed that Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found in the wreckage more than five months earlier, that the public cloud over his name cleared.

It turned out his was a classic New York story. His family had immigrated from Pakistan when he was 13 months old, his father opening a candy store, his mother becoming a middle school teacher. Mr. Hamdani attended Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until the eighth grade, and then played football for Bayside High School in Queens.

He became a certified emergency medical technician and spent a year volunteering for MetroCare, a private ambulance company. He was a police cadet for three years and had taken the test to enter the academy, but was waiting to see if he was accepted to medical school.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his family and friends believed, Mr. Hamdani, traveling to work at a DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University, must have seen the burning towers from the elevated subway tracks in Queens and gone down to help.

“We have an example of how one can make the world better,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said of Mr. Hamdani. The mayor was one of the dignitaries who appeared at Mr. Hamdani’s funeral, which was held with full police honors at a mosque off East 96th Street in April 2002.

“Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

For years, Mrs. Hamdani believed that the police had fully acknowledged her son’s sacrifice. She cherished the weighty brass police cadet badge that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, had given her, to dispel any doubts about who her son had been.

So it was with shock that she received a notification from the Sept. 11 memorial in 2009 that Mr. Hamdani’s name would be listed among those with “loose connections” to the World Trade Center where they died.

She tried calling politicians, even writing a letter to President Obama, from whom she received a respectful but vague hand-signed reply. Her son’s placement had fallen through bureaucratic cracks.

There is no section at the memorial for informal rescue workers, first responders in the literal sense, who were believed to have voluntarily gone to the towers to help but who were not yet full-fledged members of an approved first-responder agency.

Organized groups of victims’ family members settled on the concept of “meaningful adjacency” to guide the placement of names, allowing them to place victims’ names next to those of people they worked with or knew. That was no help in the case of Mr. Hamdani, who had apparently not known anyone there.

“That’s where the model falls down,” said Thomas H. Rogér, a member of the memorial foundation’s board who was deeply involved in those discussions. “That was the sad part about it. If you weren’t affiliated with one of the groups that had a constituency that was at the table, when we were carrying out all these negotiations, then nobody was representing your cause.”

Meanwhile, the Police Department did not include Mr. Hamdani’s name on its own list of the fallen because “he was still a student,” said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. A police cadet is the equivalent of a paid college intern with the department, Mr. Browne said, and is not a full-fledged police officer or a recruit enrolled at the academy.

“But that did not take away from Mohammad’s actions that day,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. “If anything, it magnified them. He didn’t have to respond. It wasn’t his job, but he did anyway.”

Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York City, said acknowledging Mr. Hamdani as a first responder “would be a great gesture to say to the community that we recognize that we have Muslim-Americans who risked their lives or lost their lives on that day, and for that we thank you.”

Mr. Rogér, of the memorial foundation, wondered if Mr. Hamdani’s name could appear in the Police Department’s section of the memorial with an asterisk noting that he was a police cadet. The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, also suggested some compromise.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the N.Y.P.D. and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” she said in an e-mail.

Mrs. Hamdani, who has started a Queens College scholarship in her son’s name, is still unsure of how much she wants to press the issue. Pride, in the end, is the overwhelming feeling she has for her son.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani recalled saying as she stood before his name and the memorial’s pouring waterfalls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “By your actions the world remembers you.”

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America’s Dark Age of Islamophobia

By Tony Norman for Philly.com

Muslims really thought they were doing the world a favor by pulling Europe and its mostly illiterate Christians out of the Dark Ages. But just because they foisted algebra, trigonometry, optics, astronomical charts, the classics, Arabic numerals, advanced surgical techniques, perspective in art, the lute, and artichokes on the world – while the Christian kings of Europe were smothering free inquiry – we’re not about to give them any credit a thousand years later.

Particularly in America, we remain ignorant of Islamic contributions to Western life. We suffer from a profound cultural amnesia when it comes to remembering our millennia-long debt to our Muslim brethren. But as the song goes, what has Averroes done for us lately?

Americans are so used to thinking of Muslims as an exotic “other” that many fail to realize they’re an inextricable part of who we are and have been since the nation’s earliest days. Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims see them as Manchurian candidates crouching in the shadows with explosive vests, waiting for the signal to wage terror on America’s malls. If you ask the average American citizen about Islam’s role as an incubator of Western ideas, expect stares of incomprehension.

If this ignorance were restricted to the margins of society, it wouldn’t be half as embarrassing. But Islamophobia, like its twin brother, anti-Semitism, has a way of injecting itself into the cultural discourse. Contempt for Muslims remains an acceptable prejudice for millions who continue to equate the religion with terrorism.

Recently, TLC began running an innocuous reality show called All-American Muslim. It documents the lives of five Muslim families in a Detroit suburb that boasts the highest concentration of Arabs and Muslims in America. The 99 percent of Americans who don’t share their faith are invited to explore the possibility that these very misunderstood Americans don’t have horns or drink the blood of infant Christians and Jews.

It didn’t take long for a conservative group calling itself the Florida Family Association to complain that the TLC series is “propaganda that riskily [sic] hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

Of course, there’s nothing on the show to indicate a subversive religious agenda, other than its blatant attempt to portray Muslims as humans.

Lowe’s Home Improvement couldn’t be bothered with such nuances. It pulled its ads from the show and issued the wimpiest justification of corporate cowardice ever: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views.”

Ted Lieu, a state senator in California, called Lowe’s capitulation to intolerance “un-American” and is considering calling for a boycott of the retailer. Lowe’s isn’t worried about a boycott from America’s Muslims, who number fewer than two million, but a sympathy boycott by fair-minded Americans of all faiths and political persuasions would be a nightmare for the company.

Crawling out of this depressing sequel to the Dark Ages won’t be easy.

Park 51 Photo Exhibit Features American Children From All Over The World

BY Jessica Jenkins for Groundswell

NYChildren, a new photo exhibit at the Park51 community center in downtown Manhattan highlights the diversity of American identity by featuring New York City children from all parts of the world. A slideshow in the New York Times highlights a dozen portraits from the NYChildren exhibit. The photographer, Danny Goldfield, says he was inspired by a 2004 encounter with the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was murdered at his Mesa, Arizona gas station on September 15, 2001. That encounter led Mr. Goldstein to think about what constitutes American identity, and his project to photograph a child from each country of the world. So far Mr. Goldstein has photographed children from 171 different countries, all living in New York City.

It’s been a year since the Park51 community center was besieged by Islamophobic attacks from across the nation for its proximity to Ground Zero. Park51 has since scaled back its plans to build a new community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan but nevertheless has continued to offer events and faith services to the local community in its existing building. On its website, Park51 says about the exhibition: “We live in a world with far too much fear and misunderstanding. This exhibition is about finding the courage to meet and get to know neighbors to build trust and friendship.” We can’t think of a better way to set a tone of resilience, tolerance and hope.

Ten Years After 9/11, We’re Still in the Dark

By Omar S. Ashmawy for The Washington Post

I joined the U.S. military after law school to help my country defend itself against the threat of Islamic extremism. My final assignment in my eight years in the Air Forcewas as a war crimes prosecutor in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With access to our nation’s most intimate secrets, I shuttled between Guantanamo and the Pentagon from the summer of 2007 to the winter of 2009. I learned many lessons, but on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the most important lesson I can share is the most alarming: After so many years and so much sacrifice, nothing has changed.

Our greatest weakness remains today what it was 10 years ago, and what it was eight years before that, when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. We don’t understand Islam or Arab culture, and that ignorance prevents us from accurately predicting our relationship with Arab and Muslim countries and identifying our enemies.

From our government to the front lines, individuals are making decisions based on inaccurate, biased information. The White House’s August announcement on combating radical Islam acknowledged this reality. Our soldiers, agents and analysts don’t have the facts they need to make informed decisions about whom to trust, what to believe and how to keep the threat at bay.

Whether it’s the FBI recommending its agents read books by a known anti-Muslim author, misplaced anxiety over “sharia law,” the near absence of linguistic and cultural training in the military, or our government’s collective surprise at the Arab Spring, the effect of what we don’t know reverberates through U.S. policy. But the result is the same: We are caught off guard by events we should have anticipated or, worse, we confuse our enemy’s propaganda with knowledge.

As an American Muslim born and raised in New Jersey, I am frustrated that America still struggles with the basics: We don’t understand the difference between Islam and Islamic extremism, or that Arab culture is not the same as the religion. We divide Muslims into secularists and extremists and can’t tell the devout from the radical, the sympathizer from the opportunist.

Two of the most enduring examples are the military commissions and Guantanamo Bay — intractable problems that will never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. They’re once and future disasters built by people who should have known better — people America trusted to know more. Both were operated and sustained by individuals so uninformed of our enemy’s religion, language and culture that they could not accurately process the information available to them. Attorneys couldn’t tell good cases from bad ones, and the agents assigned to the commissions didn’t know what questions to ask detainees.

I saw it firsthand. From lawyers to interrogators, the vacuum was enormous. It filled Guantanamo Bay with men who did not need to be there and barred their release. It was fuel on a fire set by a legal process that initially conflated the mutually exclusive missions of intelligence-gathering and the rendering of justice. The absence of knowledge and leadership permitted the worst of what happened — reports of the abuse of prisoners, the desecration of holy books, the legal pantomimes — and continues to prevent a resolution to the human drama playing out on that island.

We cannot close Guantanamo because the trials of the detainees who remain would be tainted by evidence from botched interrogations and because the men there are now radicalized — the result of decisions based in an ignorance tantamount to racism.

This ignorance is a degenerative disease that debilitates our efforts to protect our nation. It was tempting to think that with Osama bin Laden’s death we could end this conflict, if only we could end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While those wars must be concluded, neither their end nor the death of any individual terrorist will secure us against another attack by Islamic extremists. We’re not fighting a single enemy but a decentralized patchwork of groups that adhere to the same twisted, bankrupt ideology. Whether it is Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia or al-Shabab in Somalia, our enemies are motivated and wait — patiently — until we forget.

As we honor the past, we must also commit to the future. This commitment must include an expectation that all Americans responsible for protecting us possess the education and knowledge to do so and be committed to accuracy and learning. A good place to start would be language and culture training for our soldiers, and training in Islam and Arab culture and history for policymakers. Similar education should be made available to local law enforcement and community leaders. At the height of the Cold War, we encouraged our best and brightest to study Russian language and history. Ten years after Sept. 11, this is a basic but necessary step. Ignorance is our vulnerability, and we must begin somewhere. Those individuals we remember Sunday deserve better. We all do.

The writer is a former Air Force officer and war crimes prosecutor. He prosecuted U.S. v. Hamdan and U.S. v. Al Bahlul, the first two litigated cases to be brought before a military tribunal since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Osama Bin Laden Hunted Down And Killed By US

By Brad Norington for The Australian

Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan and his body retrieved by a US strike team nearly 10 years after the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon killed more than 3000 people.

Announcing “justice has been done”, Mr Obama said bin Laden had been found hiding in Pakistan and a targeted operation launched today by a small US team.

“After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” Mr Obama said, adding that no Americans were harmed in the assault.

“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat al-Qa’ida,” the President said. “His demise should be welcomed by all that believe in peace and human dignity.

“It’s important to note our counter terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he had been hiding.” “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.

“There is no doubt that al-Qa’ida will continue to pursue attacks against us. “We must and will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

Despite the decade that has elapsed since the September 11 attacks, the event, one of the most traumatic in US history, still stirs raw emotions, and his demise will be celebrated across the United States.

Chants of “USA, USA” rang out from tourists outside the White House as the news of bin Laden’s death sent an electric charge through Washington.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the fence of the presidential mansion and sang the US national anthem and started shouting and cheering. Mr Obama said the United States people understood the cost of war, but would not stand by if threatened.

“As a country we will never tolerate our security being threatened nor stand idly by when our people have been killed,” he said. “We will be relentless in defence of our citizens and our friends and allies.

“We will be true to the values that make us who we are. “And on nights like this one we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qa’ida terror, justice has been done.”

The location of bin Laden and his family confirms recent speculation that he was hiding in comfortable surroundings and close to civilisation, not in the remote mountains dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US armed forces have been hunting the Saudi terror kingpin for years, an effort that was redoubled following the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon which killed 3000 people. But bin Laden always managed to evade US armed forces and a massive manhunt.

The death of bin Laden will raise huge questions about the future shape of al-Qa’ida and also have steep implications for US security and foreign policy 10 years into a global anti-terror campaign. It will also raise fears that the United States and its allies will face retaliation from supporters of bin Laden and other Islamic extremist groups.

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was a member of the wealthy Saudi bin Laden family and the founder of the jihadist organisation al-Qa’ida, most widely recognised for the September 11 attacks on the US and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets.

As a result of his dealings in and advocacy of violent extremist jihad, bin Laden lost his Saudi citizenship and was disowned by his billionaire family.

Bin Laden evaded US capture in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and since then he and his organisation have been major targets of the US war on terror.

Bin Laden and fellow al-Qa’ida leaders are believed to have been hiding near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in tribal areas that lie outside government control.

American Promotes Global Peace by Building Schools

By Samreen Hooda for The Bayor Lariat

He is well known for his best-selling novel “Three Cups of Tea” and as the American who builds schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, yet his story began with an accident that changed his life.

Greg Mortenson first went to Pakistan on an attempt to climb the mountain K2. After getting lost twice, cold, sick and hurt, Mortenson stumbled upon the small village of Korphe where the locals nursed him back to health. It was here, Mortenson said during his recent visit to Dallas, that he first encountered what would become his new life.

“I saw 84 children sitting in the dirt doing their school lessons,” Mortenson said. “Most of them were writing with sticks in the sand. When I saw those 84 children sitting in the dirt and they asked for help to build a school, I made a promise that day that I would help them.”

Mortenson didn’t realize then that the climb ahead was still steep. He came back to the states and wrote letters to 580 celebrities asking them to donate to the cause. He got one response: a check for $100. But he did not give up, speaking at schools and appealing to people’s desire that all children have a right to an education. Mortenson eventually got the funds he needed to begin the school he had promised.

“I built that school and then 78 more and I’m still doing it today,” Mortenson said.

This is his life’s purpose and he constantly strives to fulfill it, said Sadia Ashraf, outreach coordinator for the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit Mortenson started to promote education in remote regions of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is his passion for the cause that has made him so remarkable at what he does, she added.

It is this ability to mix passion with a unique perspective that many say makes him a revolutionary.

“I think philosophically speaking he’s looking at an issue that’s been there for many years, looking at it through completely fresh eyes and also looking at it through the perspective of an American, which is a little bit unique,” said Amir Omar, city councilman for Richardson. “And his ability to come back to the States and explain those needs in terms that other Americans would understand, I think that has a really compelling message to it. It not only impacts children in Pakistan but also it impacts the perceptions of Americans.”

Yet Mortenson’s vision is not just designed to change perspectives, but to alter future generations by educating today’s youth, especially women.

“When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother,” Mortenson said. “The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”

Teaching women, Mortenson says, is the way to changing the world.

“When someone goes on jihad, they first should get permission and blessings from their mother,” he said. “And if they don’t, it’s very shameful or disgraceful. And I saw that happen after 9/11. They were primarily targeting illiterate, impoverished society because many educated women were refusing to allow their sons to join the Taliban.”

But education of this sort can only take place when you don’t walk in as strangers to try and change the world, but first become family, Mortenson said.

That happens with three cups of tea.

“The first cup you’re a stranger, second cup a friend and the third cup you become family. That doesn’t mean you just go around drinking tea, having peace in the world,” he said. “But what it means is that first we have to build relationships and get to know each other.”  That’s how Mortenson believes in promoting peace: one school at a time.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteGreg Mortenson’s humanitarian work in Afghanistan and Pakistan shows that one man can make a difference and leave a lasting mark in the lives of many. He is a great unofficial ambassador of the United States much like aid worker Todd Shea of Shine Humanity. We commend both individuals and many others for their honorable work on behalf of the people of these two neighboring nations.

Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry

By Nicholas D Kristof for The New York Times

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

Go to Columnist Page »That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”

I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some “balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

Granted, the reason for the nastiness isn’t hard to understand. Extremist Muslims have led to fear and repugnance toward Islam as a whole. Threats by Muslim crazies just in the last few days forced a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, to go into hiding after she drew a cartoon about Muhammad that went viral.

And then there’s 9/11. When I recently compared today’s prejudice toward Muslims to the historical bigotry toward Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Asian-Americans, many readers protested that it was a false parallel. As one, Carla, put it on my blog: “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.”

That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction.

Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about burning Korans) is representative of Christians.

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.

In my travels, I’ve seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God’s bidding.

But I’ve also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims; Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. Those Muslims have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate.

I’m sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to others smeared, I apologize.

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