Five months after the terrorist attacks that destroyed the
World Trade Center, dedicated workers still toil at Ground Zero, cops
remain on high alert, families are mourning the loss of loved ones, and
Muslims across Queens continue to struggle with the stereotypes and
attitudes that developed in the tension-filled weeks following Sept. 11.
A Pakistani store owner in Jamaica told the Tribune that
he was called several anti-Arab names and followed home from work in the week
directly following the terrorist attacks. Muslim women at Queens College had
their scarves torn from their heads while walking on campus. An Afghani
restaurant in Fresh Meadows was vandalized, and an Indian man was beaten up in a
bias attack in Woodside.
As time passes, incidents like these have declined
sharply, according to leaders of the South Asian and Muslim communities, who
told the Tribune that they were not aware of any major incidents that have
But leaders are saying there is a different attitude towards Muslims and Middle Eastern people in the air, and that it will be difficult for them to overcome.
In January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received an anonymous tip that a mosque in Jackson Heights was collecting dangerous weapons in a plot to commit acts of terrorism.
At approximately 11 p.m. on Jan 4, the FBI, Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the
FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force raided the mosque.
The FBI obtained a warrant to search for guns and rocket
launchers that the tipster said were being stored in preparation to shoot
down planes as they took off from LaGuardia Airport.
After tearing up the mosque’s rug, cutting open pieces
of luggage, and checking the citizenship status of those present, the
investigators came up empty handed.
The mosque’s Imam, Mufti Abdul Rahman Qamar, who taught
a Koran lesson at Masjid e Khizra two hours before the raid, said he was
not upset about the incident.
“I am American, too. Safety is the most important thing.
The FBI needed to check if it was true, they were gentle and polite, and
they saw there was nothing here,” he said.
the imam, his five children were held in custody, one at the 114th
Precinct, while the three-hour raid occurred.
The children were students of high school and college
Saeed Mahmood, a member of the mosque, said that the
imam’s children were thrown on the ground and beaten by officials when
they first arrived, but, “Once the officers checked our citizenship
papers, they were much nicer.”
Investigators also searched the homes of Mahmood and Qamar,
but found nothing.
Mahmood said he believes that the tip was given to the FBI by an internal faction at the mosque that is against the imam, but there is no evidence to prove it.
Parvez Mahmood, a Queens resident and chairman of the
Pakistan Independence Day Parade and Fair Committee, questioned if the FBI
would have raided a church or synagogue as quickly as it raided Masjid e
He said, “They should give a mosque the same respect as
any other religious place of worship.” He added, “If they had a good
reason to raid it, then they were doing their jobs, but they didn’t find
Qamar said, “I didn’t feel like they were singling us
out because we’re a mosque. They were searching the place because they
were given false information.”
He added, “People of this community know me. I have
tried to teach more about the Muslim faith since the attacks to Community
Board 3 and to the 115th and 113th Precincts. I have gotten nothing but
respect since the attacks, including during the raid . . . I feel the FBI
would have treated another religious group the same way that they treated
The FBI agent in charge of the raid was on special
assignment and unavailable for comment at presstime, but sources close to
the case told the Tribune that the FBI received credible information that
there were weapons and threats of terrorist activity at the Jackson
Although we were assured that the search procedure would have been the same for any group Mahmood remained skeptical, and said, “It may have been different.”
Directly following Sept. 11, leaders of the Muslim
community said that verbal and violent attacks on Muslims increased, and
that several violent threats to Muslims caused the NYPD to patrol the
areas around mosques.
According to the NYPD, officers are still on alert
around mosques, but constant patrols stopped in mid-December.
Police also said that the number of bias incidents in
the City increased slightly following Sept. 11, but said they could not
release specific races involved in the incidents.
The number of bias incidents has since gone back down,
Parvez Mahmood said, “There was definitely a change
in attitude after Sept. 11. We were just regular people before. After
those attacks, people may have placed the blame on Muslims in this
Executive Director of the Northern Queens Health
Coalition and Chair of Pragati, an organization for South Asian women Mala
Desai, said “Soon after Sept. 11, there were a number of bias attacks
against members of the South Asian community. People were scared, and I
went to several City offices for help.”
Desai said that the incidents have died down, but she said, “The feeling is still there.”
“The feeling,” as Desai calls it, is being felt all
Outside of the Afghan Kebab House in Flushing, two Afghani
residents told the Tribune that while they don’t fear retaliation
against them for Sept. 11 as they had in the days following the attacks,
negative attitudes towards them are still felt.
Johad Zahoon a restaurant patron said, “When it first
happened, I was truly afraid of being hurt. People would yell things at me
from cars and I would see police cars in front of my mosque. Now I’m not
afraid, but I still feel that things aren’t quite back to normal . . .
Zahoon’s friend Nahira Gul, a Muslim woman who wears a
scarf, added, “It doesn’t help that CNN shows Muslim people shooting
guns in the air and celebrating when the Towers fell. I cried when they
fell. I wasn’t celebrating. But people think I was.”
Executive Director of the Bangladeshi American Friendship Association Morshed Alam said he has felt the negative feedback, and said, “I can’t describe what we’re all feeling, really. We just know things are not back to how they were . . . I have seen changes for the positive and for the negative. Some people have come together to show that they accept us and have learned more about the religion, others don’t understand the religion and think Muslims attacked America. Muslims didn’t attack America, terrorists did. There is a difference.”
While a negative sentiment may still be in the air, Middle
Eastern businesses report that everything is the same.
Owner of the Alibaba Afghani Restaurant and Catering Hall
in Fresh Meadows, Mohammed Shukoor, told the Tribune, “Nobody has
treated us any differently. Business is fine.”
An employee at the Afghan Bakery in Long Island City said,
“Nothing has changed. We’re still selling the same thing we always
And employees at the Afghan Kebab House in Flushing and
the Al-Maaka Halal Meat in Richmond Hill also said business is fine.
Desai said she is pleased that businesses are doing well and that incidents have decreased, but she said, “I just hope people are reporting any incidents that are occurring. People don’t want to talk about this, and they’re afraid. I truly hope that people are coming forward if they’re having problems.”
While Muslims are still struggling to overcome negative
attitudes, they told the Tribune that things are getting better.
Alam said, “I have seen the attitude against Muslims
become milder, and hopefully with time it will stop all together.”
Gul added, “The wounds are still very fresh from Sept.
11 and people need someone to blame, I guess. I’m hoping and praying
that they will soon realize that we aren’t the people to blame. I
already see people changing their attitudes, but it’s still there.”
Several Muslim centers, including the Al-Koei Center in
Jamaica, have held interfaith prayer services to teach people more about
the Muslim faith. “The more they know, the less they will point blame at
us,” Alam said.
In the meantime, police encourage any Muslim feeling
threatened to call the police. Desai said, “We haven’t done anything.
The police are there to help us, too.”
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