LI Muslims uneasy about King hearingsBy VÍCTOR MANUEL RAMOS
February 22, 2011
Mohammed Ghouri brought his family to Nassau County 11 years ago, drawn by the quiet neighborhoods, good schools and easy commute to Manhattan.
The Cornell-educated businessman and his wife, Reshma, settled in Syosset, where they shuttle two sons to soccer practice and reward homework with time on Xbox.
The Ghouris, Indian immigrants who became American citizens, are Muslims.
Like other followers of Islam in Rep. Peter King's 3rd Congressional District, they feel increasingly uneasy with King's plan to hold Muslim "radicalization" hearings.
"I have nothing against the congressman," said Mohammed Ghouri, who owns a financial advising firm. "I like him, but . . . we should all be treated the same. He should remember that he represents everyone in the district."
King, a Republican from Seaford, is pushing forward with the mid-March hearings, vowing to "put aside the political correctness" surrounding public discussion of extremism among U.S. Muslims.
His stance as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has riled Muslim leaders on Long Island and across the nation. They say King is unfairly tarnishing millions of peace-loving Muslims and fanning stereotypes.
"This is branding the whole community as if we are all suspects," said Habib Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.
Reluctantly trapped in the furor are citizens like the Ghouris. They're part of a growing community on Long Island, built largely by immigrants. While there's no official population count, several thousand attend mosques in Westbury, East Meadow, Bay Shore, Huntington and other communities.
"I don't see anything different from other Americans," said Ghouri, who recently attended an interfaith talk among Muslims, Jews and Christians at the Westbury mosque.
"We come here. We pray. We go home."
Signs of unease
By most accounts, King has been a friend to local Muslims. First elected in 1992, he's attended Islamic center events and supported Muslims on important votes, such as U.S. intervention against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo.
His district, stretching from Nassau's North Shore near Glen Cove south to Long Beach, is predominantly white and leans conservative.
The congressman's relationship with local Muslim leaders changed after 9/11, when King felt "extremely disappointed and also angered" that community leaders didn't condemn the terrorist attacks strongly enough - with some even questioning the al-Qaida connection.
When law enforcement sources told King that mosques were becoming havens for extremists, his rhetoric sharpened. He has repeatedly asserted that more than 80 percent of U.S. mosques are controlled by radicals and could be harboring terrorists. He later conceded that the 80 percent figure was a rough estimate.
King insists his relations haven't soured with the Muslim community. A spokesman said Muslim residents still reach out to the Massapequa Park district office, seeking help with visas, getting off no-fly lists and other matters.
Yet there are signs of unease. King stopped attending functions at the Islamic center in Westbury, and his office hasn't responded to invitations for numerous community events, including a 9/11 memorial last year, Ahmed said.
King said he doesn't worry about criticism from Islamic groups because "the leadership does not reflect the people."
"It's pretty much a fact that there is a level of extremism, and there is a level of support for terrorism" in the U.S. Muslim community, King said.
"The question," he said, "is how much is there?"
An analysis by The RAND Corporation, a think tank, on security issues, found that "terrorist radicalization" is growing and requires continued intelligence work, but Islamic fanatics are a "very small" part of the community. About 150 extremists have been prosecuted in nearly 60 plots since 2001. "There are more Muslim-
Americans serving in the U.S. armed forces," said study author Brian Michael Jenkins.
Fear of alienation
For some, the hearings bring an uncomfortable spotlight.
Rahad and S. Zaki Hossain, a Hicksville couple who emigrated from Bangladesh, are striving to lead a good life. She's a former nutritionist; he's a mechanical engineer whose packaging business has thrived.
The Hossains have donated millions to charity and a Nassau University Medical Center clinic bears his name. Their East Meadow mosque is a community center, they say, not a refuge for extremists.
Rahad Hossain worries that King's hearings will further alienate young Muslims.
"We are adults and we know who we are," she said. "But we want to raise good human beings who feel they belong."