In Anne Arundel, civic leaders call for unity and tolerance

Terrorist attacks raise concerns about violence against area Muslims

October 09, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, Mohammed A. Arafa, director of the Islamic Society of Annapolis, has received more than 200 phone calls. Two of them were threatening.

But now that U.S. military forces have begun bombing, Anne Arundel County community leaders are bracing for what they fear will be a more violent backlash against Americans of Middle Eastern descent.

"I think it's just a matter of time," Michael J. Keller, coordinator of Anne Arundel Peace Action, said during a news conference yesterday at Stanton Community Center in Annapolis.

About a dozen local civic and religious leaders gathered at the center yesterday to urge support for the 2,000 members of Anne Arundel County's Muslim population, and for people of Middle Eastern descent living in Anne Arundel and throughout the nation.

"Discrimination against and persecution of those who are, or look like they might be, Muslims or have an Arab background is totally unacceptable, and we must speak out against such actions as often as we can," said Rabbi Robert G. Klensin of Temple Beth Shalom.

In Anne Arundel County, community leaders said they are worried about the possibility of hate groups being formed to target people of Middle Eastern descent.

The county has no evidence that such a hate group has formed, Keller said. But, he said, "I am fearful a hate group will look at this situation and take advantage of people's fears and anger."

Keller pledged to reactivate an anti-hate network of "people of conscience" at the first sign that a hate group has targeted people of Middle Eastern descent.

The network was formed five years ago as a means of organizing expressions of ethnic and racial harmony in the face of acts of hatred, Keller said.

At the news conference, leaders, including Katie Hammer, president of Anne Arundel Council of Community Services and Richard W. Kommers of the Annapolis Bahai community, spoke about peace and nondiscrimination. Some, including one woman from a Quaker congregation, said nonviolence is the best response.

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