US Muslims find defending themselves exhausting

The Associated Press
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 5:25 PM

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Finishing law school is a challenge for Dewnya Bakri-Bazzi, but being an American and a Muslim can be downright exhausting.

As she crammed before class this week, Bakri-Bazzi caught up on testimony from a congressional hearing on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims. She contends Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who called it, is ignoring the positive steps Muslims have taken in fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bakri-Bazzi, president of the Muslim Legal Society at Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Detroit area campus, says she fears Thursday's hearing will only spark backlash against innocent members of her community just going about their lives.

"When people look at me walking down the street, they'll feel like I'm an al-Qaida radicalist," said Bakri-Bazzi, who lives in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, home to one of the nation's largest populations of Arabs and Muslims.

As the profile of American Muslims has been heightened by the 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many Muslims say they too have been inspired to protect their communities against terrorism. They are becoming more active in civic and political causes and more regularly reach out to law enforcement officials.

"No community is working more diligently than the Muslim community," said Sally Howell, an associate professor at University of Michigan-Dearborn and author of several books and essays on Arabs and Muslims in Detroit. "Really, there is nobody in our society that is more concerned about this than the Muslim community. There have been instances of this coming from their community and they don't want it to happen."

Emotions were strong in the hearing room in Washington. Framed by photos of the burning World Trade Center and Pentagon, two families argued Islam was responsible for luring young men to become radicals. On the other side, Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison - one of two Muslims in Congress - wept while discussing a Muslim paramedic who died in the attacks.

Jim Riches, a former New York City deputy fire chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at the trade center, said he believes Muslims can do more.

"All people should be treated the same way, but the Muslim community has to step up," he said. "There are plots being hatched in mosques. It's a major problem. Muslim terrorists are on our soil."

A handful of Somali and Muslim community leaders in Minnesota gathered to watch Thursday's hearing, clapping and nodding their heads in agreement when one witness called the proceedings skewed.

Many said they feared the hearing would demonize Muslims, particularly in the wake of reports that around 20 men left Minnesota in recent years, possibly to join a terror group in Somalia.

"It's unjust to single out one group from another," said Hashi Shafi, head of the Somali Action Alliance. "It's really an emotional time. It's just too much. . . . We cannot be on the hot spot all the time, every year. Just as we had in 2008, and 2009 and '10 and now 2011, Somalis are still in another hot spot. It's unfortunate."

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