- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

American Muslims are struggling with their public image a year after 19 radical Islamists attacked the United States, killing more than 3,000 persons.
"Some Muslims still feel persecuted [in the aftermath of the attacks], but we are struggling to try to make people understand the religion of Islam, which teaches love for all, hatred for none," says Imam Shamshad A. Nasir, spiritual leader of the Bait-Ur-Rahman Mosque in Silver Spring.
Many Christians and Jews, on the other hand, say that Muslim outrage over the Islamist attack on America was belated and half-hearted.
Tonight, on the eve of a full day of events commemorating the September 11 anniversary, Muslims will denounce the terror attacks during an 8 p.m. prayer vigil at the Reflecting Pool, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been identified with radical Islamic groups.
It will be one of many interfaith events Muslims will be leading nationwide as part of what they call a "Day of Unity."
There is a "very broad spectrum" in terms of how Muslims are being treated, said John O. Voll, professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University and associate director of Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Things are hardest for males in their teens, 20s and 30s who look Arab, he said. Many of them still feel as uncomfortable as they did right after the attacks because they are "singled out in a very negative way" with harsh looks.
"People are nervous sitting next to them," said Mr. Voll, who has studied Islam for 40 years.
Public opinion polls indicate that the majority of Americans appreciate the strong stance many Muslims here have taken in defense of themselves and have shown tolerance and kindness toward them.
Not all actions support that message.
On Sept. 1, two young men attacked Gibbran Malik, 15, as he and his mother, Mehmooda Malik, 37, both Muslims of Pakistani descent, were getting into their car at a parking lot outside their family's Indian restaurant on Long Island, according to Suffolk County police.
During the assault, police said, the men shouted, "You blew up the Twin Towers," "Are you terrorists?" and "Are you connected to Osama bin Laden?"
Police said a group of six or seven other men joined in the taunting in the town of Selden, N.Y., and none came to the aid of the victims. Two men were charged with second-degree aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor. Each was released on $100 bail.
The contrast between the events planned in the Washington area and what happened in the town of Selden is evidence of the prejudice some Americans still feel toward Muslims, particularly those with Middle Eastern backgrounds, one year after the attacks.
The good news, most Muslims say, is that violent incidents are far less common today than they were in the first weeks after the terrorist attacks, when Muslim outrage over September 11 was, in the view of many Americans, restrained.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations tries to make that case in a new 65-page report titled "American Muslims: One Year After 9-11," which was prepared by Mohammed Nimer, the council's research director.
The report says Muslims have "witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly" since September 11. Among its findings:
"Muslims have taken a decisive stand against the senseless violence of extremists. They have unequivocally and repeatedly condemned the attacks on the nation."
"The U.S. government has hardly found the right balance between security and civil liberty. The hysteria, and, perhaps, the lack of Muslim political clout led Congress to acquiesce to government moves sacrificing the civil rights of Arabs and Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism."
"On the other hand, some Christian conservatives and pro-Israel zealots have actively sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and the nation. Members of these groups revived the defunct 'clash of civilizations' thesis and have actively worked for the exclusion of Muslims from public forums, while continuing to argue for anti-Muslim public policies."
While hailing the "dramatic increase in interfaith exchanges" witnessed in many local communities, the report bemoans what it calls "the vitriol from the far-right wing and anti-Muslim elements."
Among those it criticized for "anti-Muslim rhetoric" were the Southern Baptist Convention; evangelist Pat Robertson; Attorney General John Ashcroft; Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican; Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican; the Rev. Franklin Graham; and columnist Ann Coulter.
Some of those critics, such as Mr. Graham, say Muslim leaders have not been strong enough in condemning the terrorist violence. Mr. Ashcroft was criticized for remarks about Islamic beliefs that offended Muslims. He later said he did not recall making the statement.
More than 30,000 Muslims attended a conference sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America this past weekend in Washington. Some at the event complained of being "dehumanized" by U.S. conservatives.
Conference leaders said Muslim-Americans' message condemning the terrorist attacks has been drowned out by television and radio commentators, making it difficult for Muslims to live comfortably in America.
An official of the Muslim Public Affairs Council urged the audience to persuade others that Muslims are "moderate" and hold the same ethical values as Christians and Jews.
Mr. Voll and Ali Antar, who is chairman of physics and earth sciences at Central Connecticut State University, lament what they see as sometimes unwarranted detentions of Muslims that have occurred during the past year.
Asked how Muslims are faring a year after September 11, Nada Unus, secretary of the D.C. council of the Muslim Students Association, said: "In general, things are fine. There is still some backlash, and people get [hateful] looks that are frightening. But, in general, things have gotten much better."
A large white banner in front of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's mosque in Silver Spring announces the interfaith dinner and prayer services that will be held there tomorrow evening on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks..
Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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