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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.

Within King's district, Nassau County Lt. Kevin Smith said he couldn't recall the last time police received a tip from local mosques. But the detective said: "It's hard for us to judge what that means - whether that's because they're not reporting something or if there's just nothing to report. On the whole, though, I think we have a good relationship with the mosques in our county."

Working with King

Many Muslim leaders say that after years of reaching out, they've given up on changing King's mind. At the Islamophobia summit, one man compared it to hitting his head against a brick wall: "If nothing changes, why keep beating yourself up?"

But one leader stood up and urged the crowd to keep trying. His name was Mohammed Saleh, and to the surprise of many, he called King a reasonable man.

"I have met King recently and talked to him," said Saleh, 63, a balding bespectacled immigrant from Bangladesh. "In many ways, he is a good man."

Their relationship, Saleh said later, began as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. As one of King's constituents, Saleh asked for help because someone with his name was on the government's airport watch list and he was being detained on international flights.

King helped devise a system by which Saleh could call authorities a few days in advance when he flies. Since then, Saleh has organized fundraisers for King and arranged for him to meet others in his circle of Bangladeshi Muslims.

Some Muslims question why Saleh would raise money for a man who regularly attacks their community. But as a pharmacist who has spent his life weighing dosages and prescriptions, Saleh said he has scrutinized the political makeup of King's district - a conservative strip amid a largely Democratic state. King won 72 percent of the vote in last year's election, he notes.

"I am a pragmatist, and it's clear we have to learn to work with Mr. King," Saleh said.

Saleh also says that as one of King's Muslim constituents, he bears a responsibility for King's views on Muslims. "If it was a broken relationship that sent King on his path now," Saleh said, "perhaps a new relationship will lead him back."

So, he spent most of last week trying to meet with King to express his concerns about the hearings and ask King to make sure they are fair.

In response, King said he is willing to listen but plans to push ahead with the hearings no matter how uncomfortable they may be for Muslims in his district or nationwide.

"This was not a fight I was looking for," he said. "I originally came into this as a supporter and friend of the Muslim community. But now we are facing a danger from within. And we need to see it and recognize it, because it's not something we can ignore anymore."

Staff researchers Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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