Muslim Americans Find Acceptance still Elusive in the Wake of bin Laden’s Death
By Liz Goodwin


On Friday morning, Masudur Rahman boarded a plane to attend a conference in North Carolina on Americans’ distrust of Islam. Agents with the Transportation Security Administration had twice screed both Massud and his traveling companion Mohamed Zaghloul and determined that the two men were not a threat, and they were cleared to join all the other similarly screened passengers on the Delta regional flight operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

That’s why it came as a shock to the pair when the staff ordered them to deplane, reportedly because the pilot didn’t want them on board. An Atlantic Southeast  spokesman says the airline is investigating the incident, and that the company takes “all allegations of discrimination very seriously.”

Rahman and Zaghloul didn’t arrive at the conference until the evening, and Rahman said he was too stressed by the experience to concentrate on the weekend’s topic of “Islamophobia,” or the fear of Islam.

“I was humiliated. I was not feeling good,” he told The Lookout. “I thought maybe my children will think in the future, ‘My dad was singled out and forced to get off on the plane.’ It was an emotional shock.” (Rahman has two children under six years old.)

Delta agents apologized profusely for the incident and emphasized that the airline’s staff works separately from the personnel at the regional airline, according to Rahman. Rahman says several Delta pilots personally apologized to them for the other pilot’s action. Also heartening to the imam, who came to the United States eight years ago from India and owns a jewelry business in Memphis, are the dozens of emails he’s received from correspondents across the globe offering him support.

“America is a land of justice and a land of law and that’s why people like to live over here,” he says. “If somebody is facing some injustice, American law and American people stand behind him or her.”

Another imam from New York on his way to the North Carolina conference with his son was removed from an American Airlines plane, and the company has only said it was over an unspecified security issue. He ended up driving to the conference.

The incidents happened less than a week after President Obama announced that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by a US special forces raid. Homeland Security officials warned law enforcement agencies around the country to be on the alert for a possible revenge attack, which they fear may come from a loner type already living in the United States.

And US Airways Captain James Ray defended the Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilot, saying there may be another explanation for why he wouldn’t fly with the two men. He told WSOCTV that every single pilot in the country received warning emails from their companies telling them to be on high alert after the death of bin Laden.

It’s possible that this tension is partially responsible for some of the anti-Muslim incidents of the past few weeks, says Ibrahim Hooper, the head of Muslim civil rights organization CAIR.

“I do not think these cases would have occurred had it not been for the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Hooper says. He mentioned that a mosque in Maine had been vandalized with bin Laden’s name after his death, and that someone had smeared the doors of a Louisiana mosque with pork. Many Muslims don’t eat pork for religious reasons.

But vandal attacks on American mosques have actually been on the rise for several years, according to the work of American University Professor Akbar Ahmed -- and protests have increased against proposed mosques in some towns and cities where Muslim residents are constructing new mosques.

A Pew poll from last August found that only 30 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Islam, down 10 percentage points from 2005. However, a more recent March CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans would be fine with a mosque existing in their community -- a much higher percentage than the proportion of Americans professing a favorable view of Islam. That suggests that even if a majority of Americans disapprove of the religion, they are OK with their neighbors’ choice to follow it.

Meanwhile, young Muslim Americans are hoping that bin Laden’s death can be a positive turning point in the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. They hope that, with bin Laden out of the picture, they will no longer be saddled with the widespread public suspicion they’ve encountered since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bin Laden “hijacked our identity,” New Yorker Linda Sarsour told the AP, making Muslims “synonymous with a man who was a murderer.”

“His death brings an opportunity for understanding between Americans and Muslims,” college student Umar Issa told the AP. He added that the popular uprisings in Egypt and other Arab countries have rejected radical Islam and may help show Americans that Muslims also seek democracy. Courtesy The Lookout



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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