Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslims Dispel Myths as Post-9/11 Investigation Details Emerge

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslims Dispel Myths as Post-9/11 Investigation Details Emerge

Article excerpt

Muslims Dispel Myths as Post-9/11 Investigation Details Emerge

Eloise Davis-Chopin is a writer and editor based in South Florida.

Even as federal agents combed Florida for evidence in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mosques and Middle Eastern associations across the state were reaching out to dispel myths about Islam.

Florida not only was where many of the alleged terrorists lived and learned to fly, but the first anthrax attack and death also occurred here. According to the Justice Department, 15 of the 19 terrorists responsible for the September plane hijackings had ties to Florida. Federal agents suspect al-Qaeda cells may be active in the U.S. and, given the Florida connection of many of the terrorists, they are pursuing every lead in their investigation.

Attempting to allay misplaced fears, dispel media stereotypes and promote tolerance, across the state mosques have been holding open houses and Muslim scholars have been participating in educational forums to answer Americans' questions.

Although there have been hate crimes against Muslims--including a suspected arson at one mosque and a shot fired at another--a number of heartwarming expressions of support and empathy from outside the Muslim community have occurred as well. Flowers were left anonymously at several mosques after the Sept. 11 tragedy, and local businesses have repaired free of charge damage to mosques. Many communities have formed human relations groups comprising representatives from different races and religions.

The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay recently held an open house that was very successful, according to the society's imam, Zia Sheikh. The event included presentations and displays about Islam, and question-and-answer sessions. "Generally speaking, Muslims are sort of introverted," Zia noted. "The consequences are that the American public is ignorant about what Islam truly is, and we felt we had to educate people."

Many of the questions raised concerned the media's portrayal of Muslims as terrorists. "It is the job of the media to dramatize and tell a story how they want to tell it," Zia responded, "and people should judge for themselves by meeting Muslims."

Muslim organizations also are trying to ensure that the post-Sept. 11 investigation does not result in the type of racial internment to which Japanese Americans were subjected during World War II. They continue to press federal officials for answers about Muslim detainees, with little response. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department to obtain heretofore unreleased information on the numbers of detainees and the charges against them.

Although federal officials have not released exact figures, details are emerging about people who have been detained.

According to immigration lawyers who are representing them, the detainees fall into three categories: asylum-seekers being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); actual suspects who are being held and questioned by the FBI; and citizens, asylum-seekers and legal immigrants who are being questioned by both the INS and FBI.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center said it had confirmed that at least 50 people of Middle Eastern descent are being held by the INS at Miami's Krome Detention Center. The majority are Iraqis from various ethnic backgrounds, including Kurds and Christians. At least seven of the detainees are Pakistanis, according to the advocacy center, along with several Palestinians and a number from Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, Bangladesh and Iran. Some have been held since before Sept. 11, the center reported, and neither the detainees nor their lawyers have received any information regarding their cases. The center is investigating reports of additional cases, about which they so far have received no information.

On Oct. 10, an Iraqi asylum-seeker at Krome sent a letter to the advocacy center listing 15 people being held there in one cell. …

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