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Boro Muslims support U.S. terrorism response

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Area Muslim leaders lent their support to the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan but said military action needs to be part of a broader program tackling the root causes of terrorism.

    Speaking at a news conference in Flushing organized by Americans of Pakistani Heritage, Inc., leaders of four Pakistani community organizations joined together with Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani of the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica to endorse military operations provided civilians are not targeted.

    “As long as all steps are taken to make sure civilians don’t get killed, that is what we’d like to see,” said Ali Mirza, president of Americans of Pakistani Heritage in Flushing. “If civilians are killed, then there is no difference between innocent people killed at the World Trade Center and those killed in Afghanistan.”

    Al-Sahlani , who is originally from Iraq, agreed.

    “It is the right of the United States to capture those responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, but they have no right to kill any civilians,” he said. He argued that previous U.S. involvement in conflicts such as the Gulf War in which Iraq invaded Kuwait resulted in the loss of a significant number of civilian lives.

    To minimize the impact on the Afghan people, the community leaders supported the call by Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for a quick end to the military activity in Afghanistan. They expressed fears that an extended war would hurt both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

    Imams throughout the borough who did not attend the press conference also supported the bombing. Imam Aziz Bilal of Masjid Al-Hamdu-Li-Llah in Jamaica said he favored targeting Afghanistan as long as civilian lives were not lost. Imam Mohammad Sherzad of Masjid Hazrat-I-Abubaker, an Afghan mosque in Flushing, said he was concerned about civilian casualties, but military action was the “only way to get rid of this cancer and disease.”

    On Steinway Street in Astoria, Egyptian Muslims expressed support for the counter-assaults.

    “If someone attacks your house, you have to attack back,” said Adel Ahmed, 41, a corrections officer from Astoria.

Abedaaty Bakry, a 48-year-old limousine driver from Astoria said the United States had no choice but to bomb Afghanistan. “The right decision is to get the terrorists,” he said.

    But all the leaders at the news conference suggested that bombs alone would not put a stop to global terrorism. “America has to look into the root causes of the problem,” said Parvez Mahmood, the Queens-based chairman of the Pakistan Independence Day Parade and Fair Committee.

    Referring to the terrorist network headed by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who has been harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al-Sahlani said the United States must “study carefully and find out why Al Qaeda hates us so much.”

He said the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East over the last 50 years needs to be examined. Al-Sahlani called military action a “short-term solution” and said the “long-term solution” is to find out the reasons behind the terrorist campaign.

    “Is the foreign policy of the United States 100 percent correct or is there a mistake? If there’s a mistake, we have to find a reason,” he said.

    The community leaders believe that if the United States supports the people of Afghanistan after the military operation, as U.S. officials are discussing doing, it would go a long way toward rooting out future terrorism. When the Soviets were defeated in 1989, Mirza said “America and the West abandoned Afghanistan,” creating conditions that “people like Osama bin Laden took advantage of.”

    The leaders scoffed at bin Laden’s claim released to the world in a videotape Sunday that the strikes on America were done in the name of Islam.

    Ain-Ul-Haq, vice chairman of the Pakistan League of America in Jackson Heights, said bin Laden lacked the religious authority to declare war in the name of Islam. “Osama bin Laden has not gone to any school for religious education,” he said. “Anyone who grows a beard and puts a turban on his head does not become a religious authority.”

    Al-Sahlani, who as an imam does have religious standing, said that bin Laden “maybe took one part of the Koran and left the other out and he acts according to that.”

    The five leaders called on the media and the public to stop using the terms “Islamic terrorists” and “Muslim terrorists” and to instead call bin Laden and his followers “Taliban terrorists” or “Al Qaeda terrorists.” Mahmood said Islam should be “taken out of the whole picture” because the terrorists have their own agendas.

    “We have made it very clear that terrorism has no place in Islam and has no religion,” Ul-Haq said.

Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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