CAIR-St. Louis: ADVANCING UNDERSTANDING AFTER INCIDENT OF HATE

On May 7, the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations handed the FBI office in St. Louis a letter it received 10 days prior that contained extreme hate messages and threats to Muslims in the United States and abroad. The letter is part of a campaign that targeted CAIR chapters in at least three states. One letter contained a threat to the life of CAIR officials in Florida.

CAIR of St. Louis is aware that fundamentalists with violent tendencies unfortunately are an element in all religious ideologies and that letters of hate and the opinions expressed in them do not represent the majority of Americans. We encourage a dialogue that would advance understanding among different religions in our country and help reduce the ignorance of "the others" that underlies the intolerance and the ill-feelings among different subgroups in the society.

Encouraging dialogue and empowering moderates in all faiths and beliefs to be vocal against hate and intolerance would be a positive outcome born out of the ugliness and darkness expressed in the letter we received. Another positive outcome would be to shed more light on the political agenda behind the relentless negative campaign against Islam and a lot of the unjustified negative feelings against Muslims.

Confusing political and religious agendas only can harm all of us.

CAIR of St. Louis is appreciative of the swiftness with which local FBI officials handled this case. We encourage anyone with knowledge of this hateful campaign to contact the FBI.

Khaled M Abdel-Hamid, St. Louis
Civil Rights Coordinator, St. Louis CAIR Chapter

MO: COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT IS HEADING TO WASHINGTON

Steve Gomez can't really talk much about what he did for 2½ years in St. Louis. But basically, his job was to worry.

As assistant special agent in charge of the national security branch of the FBI office here, he worried about terrorism. And he fretted over whether he worked hard enough, and long enough, to catch all the possibilities.

Gomez is heading for Washington to start worrying on a larger scale. He'll help agencies share counterterrorism information and fill gaps in raw information. His former boss, Special Agent in Charge Roland Corvington, praised Gomez's work here, even if he couldn't reveal exactly what it was.

This much he could say: Gomez oversaw the Joint Terrorism Task Force, responsible for the federal and local officers here who deal with international and domestic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and counterintelligence.

Gomez, 40, said he often told strangers, and even parents at his child's soccer games, that he worked as an accountant for the federal government.

He acknowledged that St. Louis was not among the nation's largest or most prominent cities, but he said that was not a reason for complacency. . .

Dr. Gulten Ilhan, vice president of the St. Louis chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, has brought Gomez and other FBI agents to a mosque twice for town hall-type meetings and has gone to the FBI office to train agents.

Ilhan credited Gomez for working to improve communications with Muslims. "He was very, very kind," she said. "I feel like I lost a friend from here."

Ilhan said Gomez went out of his way to accommodate her questions, and even called after hearing about a spray-painted threat on a Pakistani man's house in St. Peters.

CAIR-ST. LOUIS: MUSLIMS IN U.S. ARE WARY

Since June, area Muslims have become increasingly uncomfortable and even fearful not because of overt attacks or threats against them, but because a sequence of incidents have built upon each other to form an intense, low-grade foreboding.

Beginning with the monthlong Israel-Hezbollah conflict through Pope Benedict XVI's inflammatory lecture last month, American Muslims say they feel more uneasy in their own country. Local incidents, including the August screening of a controversial anti-terrorism movie and an FBI raid on the home of a Muslim in Columbia, Mo., have heightened the anxiety, according to dozens of St. Louis Muslims interviewed over the last few weeks. . .

"It's possible that those who want a tougher stance on terrorism and against Muslims have felt election campaigns might benefit from bringing this issue to the forefront," said Khaled Hamid, a member of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR-ST. LOUIS: INTERFAITH PARTNERSHIP CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY, AMID PROTESTS 

More than 400 people gathered Thursday evening at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis.

Outside the hotel, about a dozen people gathered along Lindbergh Boulevard to protest the group's choice of speaker, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Foxman was unable to make the dinner and was replaced by the league's deputy national director, Kenneth Jacobson.

The protesters, who included Christians, Jews and Muslims, said they felt that the Interfaith group had been insensitive to some in the Muslim community by inviting a representative of the Anti-Defamation League to speak on the topic, "Building Bridges: The Power of Interfaith Alliances, at Home and Abroad."

"If this organization is about building partnerships and bridges, don't bring to town people who are very one-sided and practice broad-brush rhetoric," said Bill Ramsey, one of the protesters. "It doesn't help, in the present global environment, to denigrate the faith of Islam."

Another protester, Margaret Hamra, said she'd come because, "Mr. Foxman often mistakes feelings against Israeli policy with feelings of anti-Semitism."

Inside, Muslim leaders said their community - 70 strong at the dinner - was diverse and did not stand as one on either side of the Foxman issue.

One group, the Council for American-Islamic Relations, had considered calling for a boycott of the dinner but decided it would be better to be a part of the evening, said the group's local spokesman, Kamal Yassin.

CAIR-ST. LOUIS: PREACHING HATE

There are times in the history of every nation when its people risk turning down a dark road from which there is no easy return. The United States stands at such a crossroads.

Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, Arab Americans and Muslims - and others mistaken for them - are subjected to discrimination based on their religion, names, skin color, clothing or language. Bias takes the form of ethnic profiling, verbal harassment, mosque desecration and physical violence. The Council on American-Islamic Relations recently reported that anti-Muslim bias rose by 30 percent from 2004 to 2005 to a 12-year high. The group recorded almost 2,000 incidents last year of anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment and violence. The District of Columbia and nine states, including Illinois, accounted for almost 79 percent of the civil rights complaints.

In a USA Today/Gallup Poll released in August, 39 percent of Americans polled reported feeling prejudice against Muslims. The same percentage said Muslims, including those who are U.S. citizens, should be required to carry a special identification card "as a means of preventing terrorism in the United States." Twenty-two percent of those polled said they would not want Muslims as neighbors.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that while the worst wave of violence against Muslims and Arabs subsided three months after 9/11, there has been a persistent pattern of hate crimes at rates higher than those prior to 9/11.

For the estimated 60,000 Muslims who live in the St. Louis area, those numbers take on real-life meaning. Two weeks ago, a Pakistani-American man living in St. Peters awoke to find anti-Muslim graffiti spray-painted on the family's garage door.

Unfortunately, The Rev. David Clippard chose to fan the flames of intolerance and fear at an annual conference last week of the Missouri Baptist Convention, held in Cape Girardeau. Mr. Clippard is executive director of the state convention, a fellowship of 2,000 Baptist congregations.

"Today, Islam has a strategic plan to defeat and occupy America," Mr. Clippard told the 1,200 convention delegates. "They are after your sons and daughters . . . Your freedom is on the floor with their foot on it, with their sword raised, and if you don't convert, your head comes off," he said to cheers.

Those remarks, and delegates' reaction to them, devastated Gulten Ilhan, a Muslim who has dedicated her life to promoting religious tolerance and understanding. She is vice president of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a professor of religion and philosophy at St. Louis Community College at Meramec.

"I believe in freedom of expression, but with freedom comes responsibility," Ms. Ilhan said. "Right now, Muslims are fair game. People can say anything."

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CAIR-MO vision is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding. Our mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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