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Muslims Stand Against Islamophobia in New York

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By Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - Hundreds of members of the diverse Muslim communities in New York City gathered for a January vigil and press conference in the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens to call attention to ongoing violence targeting Muslims in the city.

The December subway pushing death of an Indian immigrant at a Queens subway station was the fourth incident of violence against members of the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities in two months, according to protesters.

“As bias motivated crimes occur with more regularity, it is time for our policy and decision makers to acknowledge that hateful rhetoric and discriminatory policies can lead to violence,” Muneer Awad, executive director of CAIR-NY told the gathering.

“The common theme between these incidents is the effect of the hostile environment on the minds of the perpetrators,” noted Kazi Fouzia, a racial and immigrants rights organizer for DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving), a co-sponsor of the event.

Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, chairman of the Committee on Immigration, said: “We must respond quickly and condemn these reprehensible acts. These heinous ideas simply have no place in one of the most diverse and tolerant cities in the world.”

Shahina Parveen, a DRUM member speaking at the gathering, said, “We have to ask why these incidents keep happening again and again.”

As if answering her own question, she noted, “In the last 12 years, the policies of our government and institutions have created a hostile environment against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians.”

These policies stoke the fears that affect the minds of the public in the city of 8 million people, she added.

Some analysts say such policies as the New York City’s Special Registration program that requires men from Muslim nations register with government agencies, NYPD surveillance programs and creation of an atmosphere of guilty until proven innocent; and Federal Bureau of Investigation manufactured terrorism plots are part of the problem.

Activists also place blame for the city’s Islamophobic atmosphere on mainstream media and the entertainment industry with movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” which justifies torture of Muslims and the television series “Homeland” that provides ideological justification for the global war on terror.

“We must find a way to challenge the hostile anti-Muslim environment in New York City which engages people to participate in violence against Muslims,” Fahd Ahmed, legal director for DRUM told The Final Call. It is exasperating that political leaders such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg refuse to speak out against the violence against Muslims, he said.

Some say Mayor Bloomberg missed an opportunity to condemn the violence when speaking to the press after the death of the Sikh mistaken for a Muslim as the mayor urged New Yorkers to keep the tragedy in perspective and he touted lows in city homicide and shooting deaths.

“It’s a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York,” Mayor Bloomberg told the press.

Mr. Ahmed said activists would be taking steps in the future to deal head-on with government agencies such as the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the NYPD, however, he did not reveal what actions would be taken.

The MTA continues to allow anti-Muslim ads and billboards to be placed in subway stations, saying the ads reflect freedom of speech. Pamela Geller, who helped created concern over the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque in 2010, sponsors the negative billboards.

“We will continue to remain vigilant against these acts of violence against Muslims cease in this city,” Mr. Ahmed said.

Calls to Mayor Bloomberg, the MTA and the police commissioner’s office were not returned by press time.

Other organizations taking part in the gathering included the Interfaith Center of New York, Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York and Jews Against Islamophobia.

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