By Sadef Ali Kully
Queens Asian, Hispanic and Muslim leaders organized two candlelight vigils this week to pay homage to the victims of the Paris attacks and to display the diversity of the borough that has been a beacon for integrating people from around the world.
A vigil held Wednesday at Flushing Town hall to commemorate the victims of terror attacks in Paris, Kenya, Beirut and Egypt drew elected officials and community organizations from Flushing, Whitestone and other parts of northeast Queens. The event was hosted by state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and the Korean American Association of Greater New York.
“As the world becomes a more dangerous place, we must be stronger and show more empathy,” Kim said. “We gather today to remember the victims and send love to people who have been impacted by the horrendous acts of violence.”
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), Councilman-elect Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) spoke on the importance of tolerance and peace at a time when it is easy to become hateful.
On Sunday at Diversity Plaza a candlelight vigil brought dozens of somber borough residents to the bustling epicenter of Jackson Heights, home to a multi-faceted population of many different races and religions.
State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) spoke about the violence that shattered a Friday evening in Paris and how important it was to support France.
“If only the world could take a look at what happens in Jackson Heights. Maybe this is the example for the world. When we see this tragedy, we stand right here with our Muslim brothers and sisters to send a message that we won’t stand for this,” Moya said.
The event was organized by community activists, including several Muslims, and elected officials soon after suicide bombing attacks and hostage killings at a concert hall in Paris, which left more than 125 people dead and hundreds injured.
Filmmaker, community activist and Jackson Heights resident Will Sweeney said, “It is incredible that people have come together after something that tears people apart.”
“As a Muslim New Yorker, it is important to denounce what happened and there is no place for it,” Ali Najmi, Queens community activist and criminal defense attorney, said at the Jackson Heights vigil.
On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio emphasized the role Muslims play in the city’s counterterrorism efforts.
“Muslim New Yorkers are a crucial ally in the fight against terrorism. ISIS does not discriminate and has killed members of many races and religion,” de Blasio said. “The Muslim community is as deeply concerned about terrorism as other communities are. NYPD investigates the crime, not a group of people. That will not change.”
Since January, five suspected terrorists, in Jamaica and Flushing, have been arrested after allegedly conspiring to plot terror attacks in the city and trying to join ISIS, the terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris.
As a precautionary measure, the NYPD and its anti-terrorism agencies have doubled up on security in crowded areas, tourist attractions, major transit hubs and institutions connected with the French government across the city.
The Jackson Heights vigil attendees, including religious leaders, spoke out one by one about what the attacks in Paris meant for New Yorkers.
Local 100 union leader Shafiqur Rahman, a Bangladeshi Muslim, in an emotional outburst, said: “They hijacked my religion. A terrorist is a terrorist. We have to stand together.”
The Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group released a statement condemning the attacks. “The killing of innocent civilians is forbidden by Islam as well as all other peace-abiding religions around the world.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull