Thursday, October 11, 2001

Many American Islamic leaders say they support the war on terrorism, but some younger Muslims here say they are not willing to fight that war against others of their faith.
“We support President Bush in the war against terrorism,” Islamic Institute President Khalid Saffuri says. “We support our troops and pray for their safe return.”
But Altaf Husain, 31, a Howard University Ph.D. student, strikes a different note. “Most Muslim students hold widespread grievances about America’s role in the Middle East conflict, its sanctions against Iraq and the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia,” he says.
Mr. Husain insists that this does not mean such students feel any less patriotic about being Americans, but he concedes he would not be willing to fight against other Muslims. “Not under these circumstances and not for this war,” says Mr. Hussain, the U.S.-born son of Egyptian parents and president of the National Muslim Students Association. “It doesn’t sit well to say Afghan people should suffer when they have not done anything.”
He regards Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden as merely a suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a belief shared by Ashraf Ali, 19. “Everything is in question until the evidence comes,” says Mr. Ali, a member of the University of Maryland’s Muslim Students’ Association. “It all comes down to justice. That is the foundation of Islam.”
Bilal Dogan, 22, a computer programming student at Prince George’s Community College and vice president of the Muslim Students Association, concedes ambivalence in supporting the war against terrorism. “If the targets start becoming Muslims instead of terrorists, that’s a different thing,” says the American-born student. “Inasmuch as I could fight terrorism, I have no problem. If I’m asked to fight Muslims, I won’t.”
In the wake of the atrocities of Sept. 11, some Muslims say they can understand why they are viewed with suspicion. “Truly I can understand that some American Muslims would be accused of being a ‘fifth column’ in the United States because taking up arms against fellow Muslims has certain religious consequences,” says Islamic Institute Political Director Asim Ghafoor. “It is our religious duty to try to have a dialogue with fellow Muslims even when they oppress other people, and war is a last resort.” Mr. Ghafoor’s parents were born in India and he was born in St. Louis.
“So a Muslim pulling the trigger resulting in collateral damage that is, the killing of innocent civilians in say, Afghanistan, would give pause to an American Muslim Marine or Air Force pilot in such a situation,” he says. “We don’t advocate conscientious objectors or burning draft cards but ask American Muslims who wear the uniform of the United States armed services to serve their country.”
Other young Muslims look for solutions elsewhere. Asked if they would fight terrorism, Anwar Al-Awlaki, 30, and Fatima Asfari, 21, say they would call for peace instead.
“People were willing to kill themselves on Sept. 11, and a few missiles won’t intimidate them,” says Mr. Al-Awlaki, an imam of Dar Al Hijrah, a mosque in Falls Church.
“There are other ways we can do to stop this madness,” says Miss Asfari, whose family comes from Saudi Arabia. “The U.S. just has to change its policy.”
Some young Muslims condemn Osama bin Laden’s terrorism, but say his grievances against the United States are legitimate. Rania Tarbush, 21, a graduate student of biology at American University, says her family “is back in Palestine, suffering attacks by Israel every day. The day after the Sept. 11 attacks, I was on the phone with them and I could hear the shelling in the background.”
She condemns the terrorist attacks but thinks the American response would lead only to more people suffering. “They said [U.S. military forces in Aghanistan] were not going to hit civilians, but now they are.”
Nasreen Seleem, 22, a student of business at American University and a native of Saudi Arabia, is “depressed” by the war.
“I understand [Americas] anger, but a lot of Muslims were killed in the [World Trade Center] attacks, too. We don’t agree that more Muslims should be killed.”
George Washington University student Faisal Matadar says U.S. policies are responsible for suffering the world over. “There is no justification for the [Sept. 11] attacks, but there is an explanation,” says Mr. Matadar, 21, an American-born student whose parents are from India.
But bin Laden’s speeches broadcast by U.S. cable news networks don’t appear to be winning over American Muslims. Says Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council: “He tries to push the hot buttons in his speeches. But American Muslims, because of their knowledge of the Muslim world’s political landscape, understand he is exploiting legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. But they feel he definitely is not the proper messenger.”
Hussein Ibish, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s communications director, also rejects bin Laden’s message. “The guy has hijacked issues near and dear to our hearts, like Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem,” says Mr. Ibish, who describes himself as a “not very religious” Muslim.
“Muslims still see [bin Laden] as a person with extremely radical ideas,” says Mr. Al-Awlaki, the Falls Church imam whose family lives in Yemen. “But he has been able to take advantage of the sentiment that is out there regarding U.S. foreign policy.” The Sept. 11 attacks and the American military response have put the Islamic community here between “a rock and a hard place,” he says.
“We’re totally against what the terrorists had done. We want to bring those who had done this to justice,” Mr. Al-Awlaki says. “But we’re also against the killing of civilians in Afghanistan.”
Miss Asfar says she and her Saudi family “don’t agree with bin Laden one bit, but the U.S. should be fair to both Israelis and the Palestinians. The U.S. has thrown all of its support behind Israel. That’s one of the things bin Laden has said and that’s why he dislikes Americans.”
Her friend, Mustafa Khatib, a 22-year-old Muslim-American from Alexandria, agrees. “There are some things that bin Laden says that make sense,” he says. “He just shouldn’t use violence to prove his points.”
Ellen Sorokin and Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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