Queens, which prides itself on its diversity, has been the scene of several suspected hate crimes targeting Hindus and Bukharian Jews.
Fire was the weapon of choice in the torching of Hindu religious flags outside a house in Woodhaven and in the burning of several large houses under construction for Bukharians in nearby Forest Hills.
Add to this mix the shadow of terrorism as the ripple effect from the San Bernadino, Calif., attack reached Queens, creating widespread unease in the Muslim community that it could be held accountable for the actions of two radicals.
The borough is the epicenter of ethnic integration in this country and tolerance, although not always evident here, has generally been practiced when cultures meet in school, work and government.
Singling out one religious group as prey sends a shudder through Queens, which has been a safe haven for immigrants seeking freedom from discrimination and persecution for many years.
Elected officials gathered last Friday for a “We Are One Rally” on the corner of 89th Avenue and 90th Street to protest the desecration of 40 Hindu flags on Thanksgiving morning. Police described the suspect as a man in a baseball cap who fled the scene.
After the seventh fire in six weeks destroyed another Bukharian building site, community leaders met Sunday and lambasted authorities and the media for not drawing more attention to the serial arsons.
The last fire was set early Sunday morning at the future home of a Bukharian rabbi, which was the scene of another suspicious blaze Nov. 15.
Members of the insular Bukharian community believe they have been marked because of growing dissatisfaction in the neighborhood over their quest to build opulent houses, where more modest homes once stood. They also fear possible anti-Semitism.
Police have identified the arsonist as a man in a hoodie, but the NYPD and the FDNY have only begun to add special patrols.
At least one Bukharian official was miffed that Mayor Bill de Blasio had gone to the Jamaica Muslim Center Friday night to reassure the community they were the city’s allies in the fight against terror but had not contacted the Forest Hills fire victims.
The mosque was jammed with hundreds of worried congregation members and a number of lawmakers as GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump ramped up his rhetoric against Muslims.
Queens is an imperfect experiment in mixing cultures and resolving ethnic differences. Any hate act is a strike against the world’s borough and will not be allowed to divert our mission.