Muslims in Southern Maryland feel the pain and fear of divided loyalties WAR IN THE GULF

January 19, 1991|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

PRINCE FREDERICK -- It was about a week ago that Dr. Emad R. Al-Banna got the letter from his niece. She was getting married next month, and she wanted him to come to her wedding. In Baghdad, Iraq.

"No, there won't be any wedding," he said, sighing. "They probably have the kid in the army now. . . ." His voice trailed off.

The war launched Wednesday against Iraq has left those in Southern Maryland's tightly knit Muslim community emotionally torn between their adopted country and their homeland.

"We feel like kids between two parents who are separating, and the father's cussing the mother and the mother's cussing the father," explained Dr. Al-Banna. "When I heard that Iraq invaded Kuwait, I felt so horrible. It was like my big brother just kicked my cousin very hard."

And now that their old enemy, Israel, has said it will retaliate for an Iraqi missile strike on the Jewish state, they are in even greater emotional conflict.

Jordan, which lies between Iraq and Israel, would be destroyed if the Israelis entered the war, predicted a 25-year-old St. Mary's County man who was worshiping at the Southern Maryland Islamic Center here yesterday -- the Muslim sabbath.

It was bad enough that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked a "brother Muslim country," said the man, a native of Pakistan who asked not to be identified. But now another Muslim country is under attack from the United States, and a third could become a killing field if Israel is involved.

"When I heard the missiles were launched last night, I was confused," added a 22-year-old Waldorf man, also a native of Pakistan who asked not to be named. "I think it should be over with as quickly as possible."

Muslims here chafe at what they call the undue influence wielded by Israel among U.S. leaders, who they complain observe a double standard where Israel is concerned.

"The Jewish lobby had a lot to do with this," complained Mohammed Ameen, a developer in Charles County. "Israel knew that Iraq was developing a nuclear capability, and they wanted that killed."

While the United States sees Kuwait as occupied land, Muslims see Israel as occupied land that rightfully belongs to the Palestinians, said Inyrd Kahn, an 80-year-old native of Pakistan.

But even if some disagree with parts of U.S. policy, neither do they support Mr. Hussein.

"He was wrong to walk into Kuwait like that," said Mr. Ameen. "I don't have too much respect for him."

Others agree the allies should have attacked Iraq but worry about their loved ones there. And they are angry with Mr. Hussein for ignoring diplomatic initiatives.

"He had umpteen chances for an honorable solution, and he ignored all of them," complained Dr. Issam Damalouji, a native of Iraq and a founder of the mosque.

"My grandchildren are there and my great-grandchildren, on both sides of our family, and they are so beautiful," he fretted. "I just pray that God keeps them all safe."

Ironically, the mosque was built three years ago with money donated by Mr. Hussein before the start of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, a point not lost on Dr. Damalouji.

"We were very good friends with him -- once," he said.

Although Dr. Damalouji fears that vandals may attack the mosque, neither he nor any of the others said they feared for their personal safety.

"I've been here for 20 years. I'm an American now," said Mr. Ameen.

Dr. Al-Banna, a surgeon, recalled entering an operating room at Calvert Memorial Hospital Thursday morning, some 12 hours after the war started. "One of the nurses came up to me and gave me a hug and said she was praying for me and for all of us," he said. "And the other doctors and nurses all expressed the same sentiments. I was so proud of the people here. They are a compassionate, peaceful people."

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