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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America's bloodiest day
Muslims fear anti-Islamic backlash

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Soon after the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed yesterday morning, Norzeela Kasmani McLaughlin of Kane'ohe began to dread the anti-Islamic sentiment that she expects to follow terrorist attacks on American turf.

Although no one had taken responsibility for the airplane crashes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, counterterrorism experts publicly wondered whether Saudi businessman Osama bin Laden or such militant groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad were involved.

That rattled some local Muslims, who were reminded of the bigotry that followed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, although the perpetrators turned out to be white American militants.

"Everyone will be talking about Islamic terrorists, and it will come back to us," said McLaughlin, a Singapore-born Muslim who has lived in Hawai'i with her son and military husband for three years.

Like millions of others, members of Hawai'i's Islamic community were dumfounded by yesterday's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many pledged to assist victims by donating money and blood.

"We, the Muslims in Hawai'i, condemn in the strongest possible terms what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians," said Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim Association of Hawai'i, which has more than 1,000 members.

Behind the outrage was deep-rooted anxiety that Islam would be blamed for the worst-ever act of terrorism against the United States.

After all, that was the case in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, when speculation of an Islamic terrorist conspiracy speedily sprouted, and some Muslims were rounded up and questioned by authorities.

"People were quick to make unsubstantiated conclusions," Ouansafi said. "The media doesn't exercise restraint, draws premature conclusions, brings in so-called experts who feed the public with information that is not correct. This is something we have lived with for years."

He urged Americans to differentiate between individuals who commit terrorist acts and the diverse religious communities around the globe that practice Islam.