By Dustin Brown
When U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) visited the Razi School in Woodside Monday, he faced a student body perplexed and saddened by a senseless assault on their nation.
But the students at the private Islamic school faced an additional sadness as threats of violence forced school administrators to heighten security and protect children they feared could fall victim to bias.
“Many of us were touched in different ways, and I know this school was touched in its own way,” Crowley told an assembly of the upper grades at the Queens Boulevard school, which has an enrollment of more than 400 from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Within two hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Razi administrators were forced to evacuate the school after receiving threatening phone calls. The calls were “very frightening,” said school counselor Shahin Asarpour.
The school remained closed for the rest of the week and reopened on Sept. 17 with 40 students still absent and some parents insisting on staying at school with their children.
Officers from the 108th Precinct are offering 24-hour perimeter surveillance, which Community Affairs Detective Glenn Yule said he “can’t see ending anytime soon.”
During Crowley’s visit this week, school administrators said students and staff were only beginning to recover from the repercussions of the terrorist assault.
“Everyone is still on edge,” said Assistant Principal Shannon Huber. “Things are not back to normal. The children are still frightened.”
While administrators struggled to return the co-ed school to its regular pace, the congressman’s visit gave students the chance to convey their concerns to someone who assured them he had direct ties to the president.
As in all schools across the borough, one second-grade class at Razi asked countless questions that were profound in their simplicity such as “Why did they knock down the Twin Towers?” and “How did you feel?”
Crowley told the youngsters that the attacks were committed by “really bad people that didn’t have much regard for other people’s lives.”
Other students raised their hands with desperate enthusiasm just to make the stunned observation that the Twin Towers “don’t exist anymore.”
But the older students had a deeper understanding of the attack on their country and its implications for their own religious community, which has been targeted by people who associate Islam with terrorism.
“It is hurtful to them to hear their community accused of something it isn’t,” said Asarpour.
In the assembly program, Crowley offered the students his assurance that they have the unconditional support of the U.S. government.
“I recognize that you’re all Americans and your loyalty is to this country,” Crowley said. “It was really an attack on all of us. It was an attack on America and what we stand for.”
The gathering concluded with a series of prepared questions from students, which increased in sophistication from fifth grade to high school seniors.
The youngest students wanted to know how they could help and what made the congressman the most sad. From the older kids came questions about the backlash against Muslims, including concerns about their own ability to pursue political careers and the need to separate Islam from terrorism in the public mind.
“It’s not a war against Islam — it’s not against Muslims,” Crowley told the crowd of students. “It’s a war against cowardly individuals who would give their own lives to take the lives of others.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.