By Bill Parry
He still has swelling under his left eye, but Sarker Haque’s spirits are soaring since the Astoria community rallied around him after he was beaten during a possible hate crime Dec. 5. Nearly two weeks later, the 52-year-old Bengali Muslim has a steady stream of friendly customers at his Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue, and people greet him on the streets.
“Everyone is so nice to me, they always say hello,” Haque said. “Even small children ask me how I’m feeling. I am so happy about that.”
Haque got another lift Sunday afternoon when U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) walked into his store to visit and present him with an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.
“It was so nice of him to come and see me, a very decent thing for him to do.” Haque said. He plans on displaying the flag in the Fatima Food Mart.
Crowley had been unable to take part in a rally at the store Dec. 8 that drew hundreds of the shopkeeper’s neighbors.
“The way in which Astorians have responded to the hateful attack on one of our neighbors and expressed their support says a lot about our community,” Crowley said. “I, too, am proud to join in solidarity with Sarker Haque and our Muslim American neighbors to send a powerful message that we will not stand for hate and intolerance. Sarker is an outstanding contributing member of our society and I was proud to present him with a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to honor those contributions.”
His contributions to the neighborhood were cited by elected officials during the rally. Several also blasted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a Queens native, for his recent anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“What Donald Trump is spewing is not welcome in this neighborhood,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “It’s time we turn away from Trump and turn to Mr. Haque because he is a true American.”
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), an immigrant who came to the United States as a newborn in the ‘70s, called Haque a representative of the American dream.
“Through hard work he supports his family,” she said. “Astoria was built by generations of people who came here to build a better life for their families in peace and safety. We will not tolerate acts of violence and hatred.”
Haque was alone in his store when 55-year-old Piro Kolvani wandered into his store, stared at a newspaper photo of the San Bernardino shooting and then allegedly punched him in the head saying “I Kill Muslims,” police said. “The beating continued for seven to eight minutes before a regular customer intervened.
Kolvani was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and released with aticket to appear in court Jan. 12, but bias charges may be added, according to the NYPD.
“Hate Crimes is on it now and there may be an additional arrest,” Capt. Peter Fortune of the 114th Precinct said. “I don’t know if he was in shock or there was a language barrier but he didn’t tell us about the racial epithet until a second interview was conducted. The 114th’s message is that we take this very seriously. We have a great relationship with our Muslim community and we’d hate to see anything damage that.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr