A Split Among New York City Muslims
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Most terrorism experts agree that the best way to deal with Islamic extremists in America is from within the Muslim community. Islam requires that young Muslims follow instructions from their local imams and other religious leaders. Recently, Muslim leaders in New York City have had to test that theory. They are tempting to rein in a group of young Muslims who have led fiery protests against America. Dina Temple-Raston reports.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON reporting:
The Mister Softee truck of 37th and 74th in the Jackson Heights section of Queens is out of place in a neighborhood of Bangladeshi record stores, South Asian food markets and Indian restaurants. The ice cream truck is parked right across from a street corner that has become the battleground in the fight against Islamic extremism. Until recently, this is where a small group of radical young Muslim men and women, known as the Islamic Thinkers Society, have taken to protesting every Sunday. Armed with bullhorns and signs, they raged against America from a no-parking zone in front of the dentist's office and the Mister Softee truck.
Mr. ROSSOM NOSSEF(ph) (Executive Director, Council of American-Islamic Relations) You know, I live in the neighborhood where they do their preaching, so I would just walk down the street and hear them.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Rossom Nossef is the executive director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations of New York. His group has been working with the city's imams and other Muslim interest groups to rein in the extremism of the Islamic Thinkers Society. He's one of the few people who's unafraid to speak about the group publicly.
Mr. NOSSEF: A lot of Muslims in New York have come up to us, and they are very, very dismayed by a lot of the things that these boys are saying. So we had a couple long conversations with the leaders where we basically tried to dissuade them from doing this kind of outreach. We didn't like their message.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Their message is unambiguously anti-American. They have stomped on an American flag while shouting that it represented a crusader war on Islam. Their Web site included a mock advertisement for a video game they called Mujahideen Strike II, which had an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center and an ax cutting the Statue of Liberty in half. The FBI has said the group has been under surveillance for two years, according to New York City Police officials, who declined to be recorded for an interview. Adem Carroll is the director of the Muslim interest group Islamic Circle of North America(ph).
Mr. ADEM CAROLL (Director, Muslim Circle of North America): Their tactics have created questions in our mind, you know, and that question is, just really, who are they and who is leading them? What is their purpose? And I think that they do appeal to the alienation of our community, and some of us feel that that's not helpful.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's why leaders of 20 mosques and two dozen Muslim non-profit organizations signed a letter earlier this month that insisted the Islamic Thinkers end their fiery protests. The Thinkers have not been seen on their Queens street corner since. The group ignored requests to discuss the letter and their protests.
Mr. MOHAMMED TARIQ SHERWANI (Muslim Center of New York): I don't think that these are dangerous boys.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Mohamad Tariq Shirwani's the leader of a Flushing mosque called the Muslim Center of New York. He knows some of the members of the Islamic Thinkers and their parents.
Mr. SHERWANI: They are emotional just like in any American family. Teen-agers--you know the problems. There's so much liberty and freedom, perhaps they cannot handle it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Law enforcement officials and other Muslim leaders say the problem is more serious. They are worried outliers like the Thinkers will tar all Muslims in New York with an extremist brush. Because Muslim youths are suppose to take guidance from their religious elders, religious leaders in Muslim groups in New York are certain they'll be able to defuse the situation.
For NPR News, I'm Dina Temple-Raston.
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