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Religious Leaders Urge Respect and Tolerance - 2001-09-18


In the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, there have been scattered threats and incidents of violence against American Muslims. President Bush and other U.S. leaders have condemned the incidents. Religious leaders in California are also urging respect and tolerance for other religions.

President Bush noted the sense of fear in the American Muslim community as he visited a Washington mosque on Monday. He said some Muslim women who wear headscarves or coverings are afraid to appear in public. "Some don't want to go shopping for their families," he said. "Some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America."

California Governor Gray Davis has addressed the same issue on the West Coast. Speaking in San Francisco Monday, he recalled his conversations with community leaders in the aftermath of last week's terror attacks. Governor Davis said, "I asked Jewish leaders and after that Muslim leaders to get on the phone with me and we talked about the importance of interfaith services and about the importance of bringing all of our peoples together."

As people learned of the terrorist incidents, they gathered in mosques and synagogues, churches and temples throughout the United States. They prayed in denominational services and interfaith gatherings, sharing a sense of shock and grief and comforting one another.

The response was the same in the Muslim community in Los Angeles. Sarah Eltantawi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council says she and her fellow Muslims felt a sense of shock. She said, "The same as all Americans, over what's happened. Unfortunately, it's also compounded by a feeling of real fear and sort of a siege mentality. We've had a lot of hate calls and emails, but I'd like to emphasize also for every hate email or phone call we've gotten, we've gotten maybe three or four positive supportive messages too."

Ms. Eltantawi says Los Angeles Muslims are grateful for that support, but they also feel a sense of uncertainty. A Muslim grocer in her neighborhood was shot and killed Saturday and she says people worry it was a hate crime. Local police have concluded it was not. They say the shooting occurred in connection with an apparent robbery.

But police are looking carefully at every case of vandalism and assault and say they will prosecute the incidents as hate-crimes if the evidence warrants it. Police are also investigating every threatening phone call and menacing email. Federal authorities are investigating 40 incidents nationwide, including two murders, as possible hate crimes targeting Arabs, Muslims, or other minorities.

Police in Los Angeles are providing added protection for mosques and Islamic schools, as well as for Jewish synagogues where the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is being celebrated Monday through Wednesday.

Rabbi Harvey Fields says 1,000 people came to services at his synagogue last Friday, a national day of remembrance for those who died in the terror attacks. He expects even more will come during the Jewish high holy days. Rabbi Fields said, "My sense is that we are going to have more members of our congregation and others who will want to be at our high holy day services this year because that's the place to be. That's the place where you get solace. That's the place where hopefully you will get some direction in terms of understanding what we need to be doing as Americans."

The Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a Jewish organization, has condemned the attacks against mosques and Muslims as "wrong and dangerous." The Catholic archdiocese and other religious organizations have made similar condemnations, saying religious intolerance violates a basic American value.