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N.Y. Muslims fear congressman's hearings could inflame Islamophobia

House hearings, scheduled to begin in late February, have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community.

"Who really benefits from such a horrible tragedy that is blamed on Muslims and Arabs?" asked Khankan, the mosque's interfaith director at the time. "Definitely Muslims and Arabs do not benefit. It must be the enemy of Muslims and Arabs. An independent investigation must take place."

Safdar Chadda, a dentist from Pakistan who was then co-president of the mosque, speculated that "the Israeli government would benefit from this tragedy by now branding Palestinians as terrorists and crushing them by force."

Their statements infuriated King, who had lost friends in the attacks, as had many in his district, which lies 30 miles east of Manhattan.

"At this key moment for our country, the worst attack on us in history, these people who I thought were my friends were talking about Zionists and conspiracies," he said. "They were trying to look the other way while friends of mine were being murdered."

The day after the newspaper article appeared, the mosque's founder, Faroque Khan, went to a neighboring synagogue in a largely unsuccessful attempt to retract and explain what members of his mosque had said.

In the weeks that followed, Khan and others issued progressively stronger statements condemning al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for the attacks. They forwarded these to King's office, but the damage was already done.

To King, the fact that those words were ever uttered branded the mosque's leaders as radicals.

When told that King had specifically cited his statements after Sept. 11 as the turning point, a pained look spread across Khankan's face.

"You have to understand the confusion and shock at the time," said Khankan, who is 76, with a shuffling walk and a shock of white hair.

Tapes of Osama bin Laden had just been released in which he praised but was not yet openly taking responsibility for the attacks. Many at the mosque still remembered that Muslims had been immediately and falsely blamed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

After Sept. 11, Muslim children were being bullied at school, and someone had shot a pellet into the Islamic Center's window.

Khankan said he had spent most of his life working for Muslim groups, trying to create a bridge between outsiders and his community. That his words may have helped plant the seed for King's hearings, he said, is a heavy burden.

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