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U.S. Muslims live in isolation as public intolerance grows.

NEW YORK - In the wake of the Gulf War and the World Trade Center bombing, among other recent developments, Muslims in the United States seem to be facing the kind of widespread intolerance and discrimination this society often reserves for blacks and other minorities.

"When there are some problems, the press is all over us, but if we do something favorable and reach out to Americans, the press is nowhere to be found," a Muslim said at a Washington, D.C., rally in May.

About 40,000 people from across the nation, most of them Muslim, gathered in support of Bosnian Muslim victims, calling upon the Clinton administration to take action. With scant press coverage, most Americans heard little about that peaceful Muslim initiative.

Muslim feasts such as Eid Al Fitr, which ends the Ramadan fast, and Eid Al Adha, which commemorates Abraham's test of faith, involve up to 10 million Americans and are now part of our etah" fabric, especially for some African-Americans and for immigrants from the Middle East, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere.

At New Jersey's Meadowlands Park in June, for example, 15,000 Muslims celebrated Eid Al Adha. "It is Easter, New Year and Christmas, all rolled into one," a participant said.

But there was no media coverage. One disheartened organizer contrasted that with the deluge of cameras and reporters that flooded an Islamic school in New Jersey after area Muslims were arrested in the World Trade Center bombing case. Reporters were so disruptive that Ramadan gatherings had to be canceled and the school closed for two days.

Since the Feb. 26 bombing, the detention of Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and additional bomb plots attributed to Muslims, media ineterest has intensified. Any Arab storekeeper is asked for a comment. TV cameras regularly appear outside New Jersey mosques on Friday, the holy day.

Muslims say they feel grossly misunderstood. They complain that the media focuses on fringe groups that do not represent most Muslims. Some of those mainline Muslims speak of jihad, for example, not as a holy war, as it is commonly described, but as a striving, a personal spiritual quality.

Ugly encounters frequently accompany this growing public anger against Muslims. One Brooklyn taxi driver, picking up a passenger, was questioned by two police officers with their guns drawn. They handed him a traffic ticket and told him it was "for the bombing," the driver said.

New York police regularly check IDs for almost any man who looks like an Arab. Arab children are threatened and harassed at school.

Recently, a young New York transit police officer, Mahmoud Tamer, depressed, friends say, because of his colleagues' racist affronts, committed suicide.

Arabs and other American Muslims have been trying to reach out to the wider community through the media. Shujaat Ehan had great hopes for a press conference involving the work of one his Queens community groups recently. But news of the arrest of Muslim cleric Abdel Rahman had just broken. Not a single reporter showed up at the press gathering.
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Author:Aziz, Barbara Nimri
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 10, 1993
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