Volume 95, Issue 9

Friday, September 14, 2001
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Mourners gather in UCC

Fears arise in local Muslim community

Ontario hotels house stranded Americans

Your voices

Fears arise in local Muslim community

By Erin Conway-Smith
Gazette Staff

While the responsibility for Tuesday's horrific attacks on the United States has not been determined, a small minority of individuals have directed anger towards members of the Muslim community in London.

Ab Chahbar, Ward 1 councillor for the City of London and a member of London's Muslim community, said he has heard of 15 "identifiable" incidents of harassment in London.

"With the mode of dress we wear, we attract attention," he said. "There are faces, human beings, to these complaints."

Chahbar said he has heard of incidents of graffiti, problems at places of employment, malls, elementary and secondary schools and on the streets in downtown London.

"We have to understand these are very fringe incidents in a community of 350,000. Londoners are good, outstanding citizens – not going to hold the Muslim or Arab community responsible for the work of the deranged people that committed these atrocities," he said.

"We shed tears with everybody else," Chahbar said. "This is a human issue, not a Muslim, Jewish or Christian issue."

Constable Ryan Holland of London Police Services said police are currently investigating five occurrences of suspected harassment towards the Muslim community.

One incident involved property damage at a mosque, while the other four incidents involved "people expressing their own opinions out loud to other people," Holland said.

Munir El-Kassem, a spokesperson for the Muslim Students' Association and a professor at Western's school of dentistry, said while he is not aware of any Muslim individuals receiving threats or harassment at Western, he has heard isolated reports of harassment at schools and businesses in London – "name calling, mostly," he said.

"We have to rise above the level of associating a crime with a religious affiliation. This is what is causing all this crime and hatred," El-Kassem said.

"No one can dare suggest this crime has been committed under the name of religion. This is a crime against humanity," he added.

Jihad Elrafih, president of the Muslim Youth Association of London, said he received approximately 10-15 disturbing phone calls since Tuesday's attacks.

Some of the calls developed into longer conversations, at the end of which, several callers apologized for their lack of understanding of the situation, Elrafih said. Others callers made threats of a profane nature and then hung up, he said.

Elrafih said he reported the calls to the police.

"People are angry and frustrated, [they're] taking their anger out on us," he said. "People are ignorant [and] not knowledgeable about what Islam is all about.

"Our religion is a love and peace religion," he said.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001