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Muslim leaders call for action

Muslim leaders call for action

By Tanya Weinberg
Staff Writer

September 21, 2002

With recent events hitting their community hard, some Muslim leaders say now is the time to rally their members into political activity.

In a matter of days the Florida director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations has pulled together a first-of-its-kind summit joining leaders from Florida's Muslim community and immigrant and civil rights advocacy groups. Director Altaf Ali hopes the event, this afternoon at Signature Grand in Davie, will spur Muslims toward political empowerment.

Last week's incident on Alligator Alley drove him to act fast, he said. He was amazed at the attention and resources dedicated to a tipster's report against three Muslim medical students when compared to a more-muted response to the recent arrest of a Seminole County podiatrist accused of stocking an arsenal of weapons in a plan to attack Islamic centers.

"You see the disparity there. It's a slap in the face. It's like saying you're nothing," Ali said. "And you know what, I'm not ashamed to say it, if that's the message being sent, then it's true. We're nothing."

The three Muslim students were stopped on Alligator Alley on Sept. 13 after a customer at a Georgia restaurant reported she heard them talking as if planning a terrorist attack.

Initially authorities said one of the men blew a toll, and one of the two cars was pulled over. The Collier County sheriff voided a citation against the man in light of a videotape showing both cars stopping to pay.

After 18 hours of scrutiny the three men were released with no charges filed. They deny any terrorism-related talk.

The Miami-based director of the American Muslim Association of North America is also stepping up efforts to activate his community. Post-Sept. 11 fallout has generated countless anti-Muslim incidents, says Sofian Abdelaziz, but getting people to report it is very difficult.

"They're afraid," Abdelaziz said. "They come from countries that you even talk about the government raising prices of tomatoes and you can be jailed."

Abdelaziz is telling Muslims that if the government hears them, it will eventually work with them. Reachable at info@theamana.org, Abdelaziz is collecting accounts of incidents he will then submit to the Florida Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, on which he serves.

More than 30 South Florida Islamic groups have also collaborated on statements expressing sympathy for Sept. 11 victims and condemning terrorism.

Ali, who on Sept. 11 lost one of his three relatives who worked in the World Trade Center, said it sometimes seems all Muslims are being held accountable. But, he said, he also understands the need to publicize the condemnations.

"People look to our community for some answers," he said. "Now, it's our turn now to become politically active. If not, we will not have a platform to have our worries heard."

Tanya Weinberg can be reached at tweinberg@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7923.

Copyright Ā 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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