- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — They weren’t your ordinary thugs.

Dressed in bow ties and dark suits, nearly a dozen men carrying metal pipes entered a corner store, shattered refrigerator cases and smashed bottles of liquor, wine and beer, terrifying the clerk but stealing nothing.

They just wanted to leave a message: Stop selling alcohol to fellow Muslims.

In urban America, friction between poor residents and immigrant store owners is nothing new. Nor are complaints that inner-city neighborhoods are glutted with markets that sell alcohol and contribute to violent crime, vagrancy and other social ills.

But the recent attack at San Pablo Liquor — and an identical vandalism spree at another West Oakland store, New York Market, later that evening, along with an arson there and the kidnapping of the owner a few days later — have injected religion into the debate.

The two episodes highlighted tensions and different interpretations of the Koran between black Muslims in this crime-ridden city of 400,000 and Middle Eastern shop owners, many of them also Muslims.

Six men connected to a bakery founded by a prominent black Muslim family have been arrested in the Nov. 23 attacks, which were caught on store security cameras. In both instances, the vandals asked store clerks why they were selling alcohol when it was against the Muslim faith.

One of the men arrested on charges that included hate crimes and vandalism was 19-year-old Yusuf Bey IV. His father, Yusuf Bey, a black Muslim leader who died in 2003, founded Your Black Muslim Bakery, which sells Malcolm X books along with baked goods.

The elder Mr. Bey was accused of raping young women during the period of 1976 to 1995. The accusations later were dropped. But his organization has been lauded for providing jobs and guidance to young black men from poor communities.

The younger Mr. Bey was arrested after police identified him as one of the men in the video. His attorney, Lorna Brown, suggested that Mr. Bey was a victim of mistaken identity. But she also said the vandalism has prompted discussions throughout the black community.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the number of these stores in low-income communities is not good for people,” she said.

San Pablo market owner Abdul Saleh, who has kept his store open after the attacks, said his decision to sell alcohol is “between me and God.”

“We’re just coming here to make a living like anyone else,” he said.

Although black and Middle Eastern Muslims may pray at the same mosques on weekends, their worlds do not tend to overlap beyond that, said Hatem Bazian, professor of Near East and ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Middle Eastern store owners tend to live in the suburbs, the black Muslims in the cities, Mr. Bazian said. The immigrant shopkeepers also interpret Islam to allow the sale of alcohol.

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