South Asians from all over the city and New Jersey convened in Rego Park Friday to consider the ramifications of the Nov. 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Gathering at the Tandoor Restaurant on Queens Boulevard, along with U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) and Indian Deputy Consul General Praveen Kumar, leaders from community groups and nonprofit organizations focused on education and public solidarity as balms to the wound.
“Some people thought they could destroy the idea of India,” Kumar said, noting Mumbai has been a diverse port city for 1,000 years. “But democracy is resilient.”
He called on neighboring countries to ensure the people responsible for the attacks were brought to justice, but also suggested that a grassroots effort to help heal the culture after the attacks was crucial.
“We are living in a world where the government matters but only to a certain extent,” he said.
Flushing Democratic District Leader Uma Sengupta agreed with Kumar.
“Government cannot do everything by themselves,” she said. “We also have to work it out.”
She urged people to be vigilant within their own communities, warning “the terrorist person could be with us. Maybe your next door neighbor. You never know.”
But she also called for people not to broadly condemn Pakistanis for the attacks. “These people are not normal people,” she said of the terrorists.
Mohammad Razvi, executive director of the Brooklyn−based Council of Peoples Organization, praised New York City for its rapid condemnation of the attacks, but said more needed to be done in nations like India and Pakistan.
“How do we get to these kids? How do we educate them there?” he said, echoing the comments of several attendees that Pakistan is the source of many terrorist groups in South Asia. “They’re the ones being recruited.”
Sahar Shaqat, a member of Concerned Academics of Pakistan, criticized American foreign policy toward Pakistan.
“Dissenting voices in Pakistan have been silenced by U.S.−funded military dictatorships,” she said. “We need a massive infusion of Democracy.”
Azir Bajiva of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community said Muslim clerics in Pakistan are not doing enough to discourage terrorism and violence and that Muslim groups in the United States could help influence the culture half a world away.
“What they say here resonates with Pakistan,” he said.
Weiner was curious to know if South Asian communities in the United States were experiencing tensions or violence in the wakes of the attacks.
Rupal Oza, with the South Asian Solidarity Initiative, said she had seen no violent responses yet, but believed some tensions were bound to happen. She urged people to think about some of the circumstances in India and Pakistan when formulating strategies.
“A night at the Taj [Mahal] costs more than the annual median income in India,” she said. “We have to think about those sorts of things.”
Annetta Seecharran, of the Jackson Heights−based South Asian Youth Action, said she had not seen any evidence of tension between Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth in the wake of the attacks.
But she feared discrimination would start up again if community groups did not work to bring people of disparate backgrounds together to dispel preconceptions.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@tim
©2008 Community News Group
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