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 Muslim community leaders face terrorism backlash

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The Cinncinnati Post

TOLEDO - Doctors, business owners and religious leaders who make up this industrial city's thriving Muslim community say they're not worried about a backlash against them after terrorism charges were leveled against three residents who share their religion.

"Other places are worse but Toledo's good," said Ahmad Rachidi, 44, an insurance salesman. "The Arabic community here is big, a few thousand, and they're involved in...

everything."

In other cities, terror arrests in the U.S. and attacks overseas have triggered vandalism, hate mail and attacks against Arab Americans.

Mosques in Florida and Missouri were targeted by vandals two years ago after the beheadings of two American businessmen in the Middle East. Anti-Muslim signs popped up in a New Jersey neighborhood where one victim had lived.

"Anytime there's a watershed event, we see hate crimes peak," said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal affairs director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

It would be unusual for there not to be some backlash, he said.

"The longer a Muslim community has been around in a certain area, the more integrated and accepted they become in the general fabric," he said.

Because Muslims in Toledo helped authorities in the investigation, that should go "a long way in changing attitudes," Iftikhar said.

Shock, sadness and anger ripped through the community last week when the government accused Wassim I. Mazloum, 24, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 43, and Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 26, of plotting to kill U.S. soldiers overseas and harboring or concealing terrorists. All three lived in Toledo within the last year. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Those in the Muslim community said the arrests have not led to any general anti-Muslim sentiment so far, and they're hopeful it will stay that way.

There are about 6,000 Muslims in Toledo. The Arab-American community that produced actor Jamie Farr and entertainer Danny Thomas has been rooted in the city for generations.

Many of those living here today are second and third generation Arab Americans whose parents and grandparents migrated to the city along western Lake Erie to work in its auto and glass factories.

"We have judges, we have lawyers, we have doctors," said John Shousher, an Arab-American businessman who moved here 53 years ago. "We are part of the community."

They've crossed into politics and entertainment too.

Farr and Thomas, both born to Lebanese parents, grew up here. Former mayor Michael Damas, who took office in 1959, was thought to be one of the first Arab Americans elected mayor of a large U.S. city. "This relationship has built up slowly over the last 60 to 70 years," said Mohammed Ahmad, a trauma surgeon who is also president of United Muslim Association of Toledo.

Rachidi, who was born in Lebanon and moved here 25 years ago, is married to a white woman born in America. He said such marriages have helped cross-cultural acceptance.

"Here, nobody bothers you. The community is very close," he said.

In the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg, people of all faiths rallied to support members of The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in the days following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Founded in the 1950s, the mosque is believed to be one of the oldest in the nation.

About 2,000 people held hands in a circle around the mosque's towering dome, one of the area's most recognizable structures.

Farooq S. Aboelzahab, imam and director of the center, said he's praying the community reacts just as peacefully now.

"We are very well known to the community at large and are very committed to working together," he said.

He said Shiite and Sunni Muslims pray together at the mosque as do whites and blacks and the American-born and foreign-born.

"We rely on the community, their understanding," he said. "Because ... we have a big, supportive community here."




 
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