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LOCAL MUSLIMS EXPRESS FEARS ABOUT HATE

It was an analogy that Muslims say anyone who blames Islam for the attacks in Washington and New York City last week should think about.

"The terrorists who did this are as much Muslims as the members of the KKK are Christians," said Naseera Syed of the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier.

Yet some people, angry at the acts of barbarism perpetrated in the name of God, continue to target Muslims. At least two Muslims have been killed in the United States since the terrorism attacks last week, local Islamic leaders told Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, in a meeting at Buffalo State College on Monday.

Later Monday, close to two dozen Arab-American leaders met with officials of the Buffalo FBI and U.S. attorney's office in the FBI's downtown headquarters. The bureau invited the community leaders to reassure them that no threats, harassment or attacks on the Arab-American community will be tolerated.

Federal agents and attorneys will investigate criminal complaints made by local Arab-Americans and take action if it is believed a hate crime has been committed.

"The FBI has the responsibility to enforce the civil rights laws in the area, and that's something we take seriously," said Special Agent Paul M. Moskal.

One local Arab-American man was assaulted Sunday afternoon by a teenage employee at the Tops Market on Broadway.

Police charged Brian K. Marshall, 18, of Watson Street, with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after the victim told police Marshall pushed a steel restroom door with both hands into his head.

The victim, who briefly lost consciousness, said Marshall called him an "Arab terrorist," and that when he left the restroom, several employees and his alleged assailant laughed at him and refused to offer him aid.

Tops officials condemned any such act, adding that corporate policy calls for the immediate dismissal of any employee involved in any violence, including fighting, on the premises.

"Tops deplores any acts of violence or hate crimes against people of any ethnic background," said Stefanie Zakowicz, director of public relations. "We're cooperating with the authorities, and we'll take immediate action once all of the findings are conclusive."

The car of another Arab-American man apparently was set on fire sometime Sunday night or Monday morning near his Black Rock home, although authorities said they had no solid evidence it was a hate crime.

It is precisely these kinds of acts that the two dozen local Muslim leaders who met with LaFalce said they fear.

"My friends are afraid to go out," Syed said. "They have heard of women being attacked for the way we dress."

The leaders, representing several local mosques and groups -- including the Arab American Federation, the Muslim Students Association and the Muslim Women's League -- stressed that Islam, which means peace, does not preach or condone the kind of violence practiced in the terrorist attacks.

"There is no way to express the outrage we all have as Americans, and as Muslim Americans, we are doubly outraged," said Khalid J. Qazi of the American Muslim Council.

Many of the leaders claimed the media insinuates that all terrorists are Muslims. Fajri Ansari, assistant director of admissions for Buffalo State, said he was angry when he watched one TV news story that purported to identify terrorists of recent times.

"They had Assad, they had Khomeini and they had Gadhafi, but they jumped right over Timothy McVeigh," he said.

For LaFalce, the conference with Muslim leaders was the final stop in a tour that started with four visits in and around Niagara Falls: the Small Business Disaster Assistance Office, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Harry F. Abate Elementary School.

"I've learned every single place I've been," he said. "I can't tell you all the ideas I've gotten."

LaFalce said his meeting with the Islam leaders reinforced the need for America, a country that has long treasured freedom of religion, to respect those who practice all faiths.

"If you pray, pray in your own home, pray in your own church, but consider praying in another church to have a better understanding," he said. "We need to reach out to each other."

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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