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."

A billboard on Old 63 was designed to send a message. To some, it’s the wrong message.

The billboard depicts a farmer next to the former king of Saudi Arabia with the question, "Who would you rather buy your gas from?" The bottom of the billboard reads: "Support the statewide ethanol standard."

Terry Hilgedick is the farmer on the billboard. He’s also the president of the Missouri Corn Growers Association and a Hartsburg farmer. He said the intent of the message from MCGA and the Missouri Renewable Fuels Association was to raise awareness that Americans now have choice about the source of their fuel.

"I think it is the first time in U.S. history that we have a choice between Middle Eastern oil or renewable fuel grown here in Missouri," he said. "I think it’s a fair question."

The MCGA has seven similar billboards throughout the state with Hilgedick and the king and 10 others with just Hilgedick and the caption "Use ethanol, we’ll grow more."

But some feel the billboard with the Saudi king conveys a message of animosity toward a group of people rather than pushing awareness of an economic choice for corn-based ethanol fuel. 

"Just looking at the board implies hate and discrimination for no reason," Kamal Yassin, president of the St. Louis chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Associated Press.

A local minister this morning said that there is a better way to deal with the issue.

(ST. LOUIS, MO, 6/6/06) – On June 3, a group of volunteers from the St. Louis Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-St. Louis) helped local PBS affiliate KETC-TV Channel 9 raise $50,000 during its membership drive. Sixteen volunteers took part in the event, which lasted from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

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