EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 8, 2011

Muslim-Americans say their faith hijacked

By Bill Kirk
CNHI News Service

LAWRENCE, Mass. — He's lived in Lawrence, Mass., for 13 years. He speaks fluent English. He is on the local zoning board and he's running for election to the school committee.

Couldn't get much more American than that.

Yet when Kemal Bozkurt travels — especially to and from his homeland of Turkey — he is treated like a criminal.

"I don't have a problem personally in the city or in my job," said Bozkurt, a librarian at the Lawrence Public Library. "But Muslim-Americans have been affected negatively. With Homeland Security, there is a paranoia."

Every summer, Bozkurt takes a trip to Turkey to visit relatives. And every year since 9/11, he has been detained on his return, sometimes for three or four hours, by government agents who ask the same questions over and over while his wife and children wait.

"When will this end?" asks an exasperated Bozkurt. "There are bad people in every culture and every religion. But because of a few bad people, we are all penalized."

As the nation reflects on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps no group of people in this country has been more adversely affected than Muslim-Americans. Whether it's profiling by airport security or anti-Islam slurs by bigots, Muslim-Americans have put up with a lot, said Bozkurt.

But it's not all bad, he said, noting the flip side of 9/11 has been the bringing together of people of different faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities.

"After Sept. 11, there were some good things," Bozkurt said. "Many Americans didn't listen to the media and the politicians. They found a Koran and learned what is Islam. When they found the real Muslim, they found that we don't kill. It's impossible," sad Bozkurt.

"The second good part was that we joined in a dialogue with other groups. We've learned about each others' religions and cultures."

At the Selimiye Mosque in Methuen, Mass., interfaith services were held after 9/11, joining Jews, Christians and Muslims in solidarity and understanding.

"We got together to pray," said Shaban Catalbas, one of the founders of the mosque who has lived in Methuen for 11 years and is originally from Turkey. "We got a few bad phone calls. But I think after Sept. 11 people got to know each other."

He said Muslim-Americans, as well as people of other faiths, have tried to focus on "the bright side, not the dark side. We respect and love each other. We are Americans. We all live in this beautiful country."

Dris Djermoun, originally from Algeria and now living in North Andover, Mass., said three members of his mosque — a mother, father and a newborn child — were on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

"It affected us tremendously," said Djermoun. "We held numerous interfaith events. People began building relationships. We endured some hard times. Some emails were very rough."

Even his two children, one of whom was in middle school at the time, were targets of comments from classmates. He was forced to intervene and speak with administrators, who took swift action against the perpetrators.

"My daughter was 13, and she couldn't understand it," he said. "The good thing about the school, they had zero tolerance."

Djermoun added: "We had a feeling that the religion was hijacked by a few people. The truth is, in Islam, the killing of one equals the killing of all. The saving of one is the saving of all."

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Bill Kirk is a reporter for The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. Contact him at bkirk@eagletribune.com