Tie to Islam assailed; Feds faulted over Muslim stereotyping

Federal prosecutors’ depiction of the suspects in the Fort Dix plot as “radical Islamists” drew sharp criticism from North Jersey’s Muslims, who feared that the emphasis on Islam would trigger a backlash. In a conference call, Arab and Muslim leaders from various national organizations expressed their concerns to FBI officials about the focus on Islam that officials used when announcing the charges. In a statement about the call, the leaders said FBI officials “assured that the charges … are for individuals and not for a religion or an ethnic or racial group.” Later in the day, prosecutors urged the public not to take the alleged actions of a few as a reflection of the Muslim community. But concerns persisted about the impact of the widely publicized link to Islam. Muslim leaders said the spotlight on the suspects’ religion reinforces the stereotype that terrorism is condoned by Islam, an inaccurate and harmful misperception, they say, that they have been struggling to combat. “I have no mercy for people who commit a crime, or who plan to commit a crime, as these six men are charged with,” said Sohail Mohammed, a Clifton attorney and civil rights activist. “But to make their religion synonymous with their crime is irresponsible, especially when it comes from a high-level United States official.” (…) The phrase identifying the suspects as “radical Islamists” was part of the title of the written announcement released by the office of U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie about the arrest of six men charged with plotting to attack the Fort Dix Army post. The announcement then referred to the suspects as “radical Islamists” in the first sentence, and said they had distributed videos that showed “known foreign Islamic radicals urging jihad against the United States.” Salaheddin Mustafa, of Paterson, said the tendency to link religion and a heinous act seems to disproportionately affect Muslims. “When that student in Virginia killed all those people, nobody made a big deal of his religion,” said Mustafa. “And when there have been shootings in malls and offices, we don’t immediately get told what the religion is. These are six crazy people, that’s all they are.” In a press conference later, Christie praised the Muslim community in New Jersey as being cooperative with law enforcement, and called the defendants “a few bad apples.” “This should not be taken as a generalized indictment against the Muslim community in New Jersey,” Christie said. Hesham Mahmoud, of Rutherford, and spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Christie’s efforts in the press conference to separate the suspects from Islam had prompted him to “give him the benefit of the doubt.” He said that in the past, Christie had made admirable efforts to reach out to the Arab and Muslim communities, as well as to other minority groups.

A Cleric’s Journey Leads to a Suburban Frontier

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. – Sheik Reda Shata pushed into Costco behind an empty cart. He wore a black leather jacket over his long, rustling robe, a pocket Koran tucked inside. The imam, a 38-year-old Egyptian, seemed not to notice the stares from other shoppers. He was hunting for a bargain, and soon found it in the beverage aisle, where a 32-can pack of Coca-Cola sold for $8.29. For Mr. Shata, this was a satisfying Islamic experience. The Prophet said, _Whoever is frugal will never suffer financially,’ said the imam, who shops weekly at the local store and admits to praying for its owners. He smiled. These are the people who will go to heaven. Seven months have passed since Mr. Shata moved to this New Jersey suburb to lead a mosque of prosperous, settled immigrants. It is a world away from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he toiled for almost four years, serving hundreds of struggling Muslims for whom America was still new. His transition is a familiar one for foreign-born imams in the United States, who often start out in city mosques before moving to more serene settings. For Mr. Shata, Middletown promised comfort after years of hardship. He left behind a tiny apartment for a house with green shutters set amid maple trees and sweeping lawns. He got a raise. He learned to drive. But the suburbs have brought challenges that Mr. Shata never imagined. His congregation in Brooklyn may have been on the margins of American society, but it was deeply rooted in Islam. Muslims in Middletown were generally more assimilated but less connected to their mosque. To be a successful suburban imam, he found, meant persuading doctors and lawyers not to rush from prayers to beat traffic. It meant connecting with teenagers who drove new cars, and who peppered their Arabic with like and yeah. It meant helping his daughter cope with mockery at school, in a predominantly white town that lost dozens of people on Sept. 11. Mr. Shata knew from his years in Brooklyn that the job demanded more than preaching and leading prayers, the things for which he was trained in Egypt. In America, he helped to arrange marriages. He mediated between the F.B.I. and his people. He set up a makeshift Islamic court to resolve disputes among hot dog vendors. Last summer, as he prepared to join a new community where the median income is roughly $86,000, he reminded himself that Islam has no quarrel with wealth – as long as the wealthy are pious. Still, he was stunned when a man at the mosque bought his daughter a new car, only for her to request a different model. Islam says to a Muslim you can own the world if you want, but don’t get attached to it, said Mr. Shata, speaking Arabic through a translator. Put the world in your hands, not your heart. […]

In American Cities, No Mirror Image Of Muslims Of Leeds

By NINA BERNSTEIN After the four suicide bombers in London were identified last week, news accounts focused on life in the old mill town of Leeds, where they grew up: the immigrant enclaves, the high unemployment, the rising anger and alienation of Muslim residents. Some Britons grasping for an explanation pointed at those conditions, however tentative their link to homegrown terrorism. Mahendra Kumar Patel, the manager of Patel’s Cash and Carry in Jersey City, has immigrants of many ethnic groups as customers. That rough sketch of Leeds had a familiar ring for many residents of the Northeastern United States, where old mill towns in New Jersey and upstate New York have also drawn many immigrants to faded neighborhoods teetering between blight and renewal. Three of the suspects were raised in immigrant families from Pakistan and one from Jamaica. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now home to at least 20 percent of the nation’s 219,000 Pakistani immigrants, and more than half of the 513,000 immigrants from Jamaica. But the differences between the suspects’ hometown and the depressed cities around New York are actually stronger than the similarities. Social conditions among British immigrants, for example, appear to be considerably worse than they are in the United States. The 747,000 Pakistanis in Britain, counted among its nonwhite residents, are three times more likely to be out of work than white Britons, according to one of several bleak statistics showcased in the 2001 British census. Forty percent of Pakistani women and 28 percent of Pakistani men are listed as having no job qualifications, and school failure among Caribbean blacks is triple the rate for white Britons, who constitute 92 percent of the population. In America, where few surveys even break out ethnic origins, a much rosier picture emerges from available figures. Pakistani household incomes in New York are close to the $43,393 median and exceed it in New Jersey – $56,566 compared with $55,145, according to 1999 figures, the most recent available. Jamaicans fare a little less well statewide, but have robust rates of household income and educational success in New York City, where they are concentrated. They have a clear edge: English proficiency in a place where one in four residents cannot speak it well, and where nearly half of the work force is foreign-born. While South Asian immigrants to Britain began arriving soon after World War II, they were part of a stream of temporary workers to a small, culturally homogenous country where they remained outsiders. In the United States, the pioneer immigrants from predominantly Muslim lands arrived mainly after 1980, many as university students, and like Caribbean blacks, entered a diverse country built on immigration. But demographics fall short of explaining terrorism. As details emerged about the British suspects’ relatively prosperous lives, experts and immigrant parents alike wondered how much collective benchmarks mean in predicting the extremism of a handful of angry people. Compared with Britain, “We definitely have a different dynamic going on here in the United States,” said Peter Skerry, a political scientist at Boston College. “I don’t know that that necessarily means we’re out of the woods – it doesn’t take very much for a set of individuals to adopt attitudes that could lead to a terrorist act.” Others, like Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center of Immigration Studies, which favors more restriction on immigration, point out that this important demographic difference is temporary: Since most immigrants to the United States from Muslim countries arrived after 1990, few of the children born to them here have reached adulthood yet. He found that more than 85 percent of the 100,000 children born in America to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are under 20. In a Jersey City shop where fresh goat meat and comic videos in Urdu compete for shelf space, Zafar Zafar, a Pakistani father of three, echoed such concerns last week. Mr. Zafar, whose oldest child is 13, struggled in imperfect English to convey his horror at the case of Shahzad Tanweer, 22, the suspect described as a pious but fun-loving youth whose father owned a fish-and-chips shop in Leeds.