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YOUNGSTOWN Mideast natives don't see bias



Published: Thu, September 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Local Muslims caution against making generalizations based on the extremist actions of a terrorist.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- For Jamal Ahmed, the United States is home now.

The 47-year-old native of Yemen moved to the United States 27 years ago and to Austintown eight years ago, where he lives with his wife and three small children.

He attends Youngstown State University, where hopes to soon complete a degree in sociology and religious studies.

He owns a convenience store on the city's South Side with an eclectic mix of food from hummus to root beer floats.

But, for all of that, his looks and voice reflect his Middle Eastern roots.

Reason to worry? And, given the events in New York and Washington D.C. this week, Ahmed wonders if that in itself may be enough for strangers to turn a suspicious eye toward him.

"Will I be judged by these circumstances that I have nothing to do with?" Ahmed said Wednesday from his store, where a television blared the continuing coverage of the terrorist attacks.

"People who have such a low mentality to judge me according to my accent or my looks or my heritage ... I don't really fear that."

The FBI has focused much of its investigation into Tuesday's aerial attacks on Osama bin Laden, an Islamic militant and Saudi exile who has been defying U.S. efforts to capture or kill him for years.

Ahmed and other local Muslims want to make clear that they are as repulsed by bin Laden and this week's horrific attacks as all other Americans.

They say they feel safe in the Mahoning Valley. And they cautioned against making generalizations about the Islamic community based on the extremist actions of one man.

"This is repugnant," said Pakistan native Dr. Ikram Khawaja about the attacks. He is interim dean of Youngstown State University's arts and sciences college.

"This is not religion. There is no stretch of the imagination no matter how you distort it that any religion, whether it be Islam or Christianity or Buddhism, would ever justify anything like this."

He added: "A rogue Muslim doesn't define what Muslims are, just like a rogue Christian doesn't define what Christians are."

Don't think of backlash: Khawaja and other Mahoning Valley Muslims said they don't even think of the possibilities of any backlash against them unless questioned about it by the press.

"The general public is sensible enough to know that every religion, no matter what religion it is, they don't teach this stuff," said Yasmeen Rashid, 45, a Pakistan native who moved to the United States 25 years ago and to Liberty in 1989. "And if something like this is happening, it's just a group of people with sick minds. Normal human beings, they cannot think of these kinds of things."

"I've been here five years in this community, and we have a good relationship with the rest of the community," said Dr. Sayed Abd El-Azeem, a native of Egypt who is now an obstetrician at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

"This is such an ethnic, diverse population, so I don't get that sense of any suspicion here."

"I think overall the Mahoning Valley people have exhibited remarkable restraint," said Dr. Mustansir Mir, director of YSU's Center for Islamic Studies.

Ahmed spent Wednesday serving french fries and Pepsi from his store on Southern Avenue, where a picture of Yemen hangs next to a photograph of himself and former President Carter.

Callers to radio stations: He decried attacks on Muslim-Americans "by faceless cowards calling radio stations speaking evil things about good people."

But, he said America is his home -- "My kids live here. My school is here. My business is here. My life is here."

And there's nothing to fear.

"I really believe if you maintain your dignity and say and do the right things in life, you should fear nobody but your maker," he said.




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