By Tom Momberg
Several Muslim communities from the city and Long Island rallied in Jackson Heights Saturday to mark one year since Taliban militants killed more than 150 children and adults at a school in Pakistan in an event. The event was held to remember victims of terror both abroad and in the United States.
The rally at Diversity Plaza was coordinated by Sukhi New York, a nonprofit that seeks to empower women and diverse populations in the city and helps manage the public space.
The cold overcast day did not deter some 80 people from joining the diverse crowd at the rally, which concluded with a candlelight vigil and prayers to honor the lives lost in Pakistan a year ago.
Sukhi teamed up with Long Island-based organization American Muslims 4 Peace to acknowledge and attempt to deter growing discrimination against those who practice Islam in the wake of domestic terror events, such as the 14-victim shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. earlier in December.
As the FBI investigates the woman who helped carry out the massacre—believed to have connections to ISIS, the Islamic State terrorist group—the organizers of Saturday’s rally think the attack reflects poorly on their religion to outsiders who do not appreciate the differences the Islamic extremists hold in their faith.
Ijaz Bokhari, a member of American Muslims 4 Peace, said Islam teaches peace, love and tolerance. Different interpretations of the religion have given way to violent extremism, which Bokhari said most people of the faith denounce.
He said Muslim Americans should not have to defend themselves from the actions of a few, but that they do have to in order to dispel Islamophobia and show they are as American as every other culture in the fabric of such a diverse country.
“Someone has to stand up and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is what’s happening, but that is only a small group of people (referring to the Islamic State), but this is who we are: We live here and we’re peaceful people.’ If we don’t stand up and speak, then the other side of this story will not be told,” Bokhari said.
The other message organizers wanted to make clear during the rally was that growing fear and hatred toward Muslims in America is exactly what ISIS is trying to do in influencing home-grown terror attacks in the country. This is a tool those groups use to convert more people to their cause and divide Americans, they said.
“We shouldn’t have to defend what we believe in,” American Muslims 4 Peace Media Coordinator Abbas Gastgir said. “No one, whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish or no matter what your religion or faith is, should have to defend (themselves) based on what’s going on in the news these days.”
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who could not attend the rally due to an urgent family matter, called on his constituents to take something from the message organizers were trying to convey. He said faith-based extremists are targeting people of all different religions, including Muslims, all over the world.
“So many young people were killed,” Dromm said in a public message reflecting on the massacre in Pakistan a year ago. “It was an act of terrorism much the same as we have had acts of terrorism here. What we have to realize is that we are all human beings. This is not an issue about being Muslim or Christian … this is a message about fighting against any type of extremism or violence.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb