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THE COURIER/Photos by Angela Matua
Astoria residents and politicians gathered in front of Fatima Food Mart on Thursday to show support for the owner Sarker Haque.

Since the San Bernardino massacre this month and one presidential candidate’s suggestion that Muslims be banned from America, a number of hate crimes targeting those of the Islamic faith have occurred nationwide, including one involving an Astoria store owner.

On Thursday, local politicians and many Astoria residents gathered in front of Sarker Haque’s Fatima Food Mart, the scene of a hate crime, to celebrate the neighborhood’s diversity and denounce the rhetoric that has been dominating the news cycle.

“We are at a crossroad in this nation right now and we have a choice to make,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris. “We can listen to charlatans like Donald Trump who are stoking fear and anger or we can pay attention to the good Samaritans who came in to this store to help Mr. Haque who are not Muslim by the way, who are from this neighborhood.”

Haque, 52, was punched repeatedly in his store on Saturday and suffered a lacerated lip, bruises and swelling to his face. His attacker shouted “I kill Muslims” as he carried out the beating.

Astoria residents quickly rallied around Haque by creating a Facebook group  and a hashtag #standwithsarker to encourage others to shop at Fatima Food Mart and to make cards and posters for the store owner. Haque noted that he began to lose his voice yesterday after talking to so many residents who visited his store.

“I’m very happy,” Haque said through tears. “All these people … I don’t expect you guys behind me. I’m so happy.”

Haque emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. when he was 21. He’s lived in the community for more than 30 years and has owned Fatima Food Mart for 16 years. His five children attend local public schools, including Stuyvesant High School, a college preparatory school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

“I am proud of this country,” Haque said. “That’s why I’m here. This country gave me everything.”

Ahmed Jamil, president of the Muslim-American Society, said that the hate of Muslim-Americans is at an all time high and that the Muslim-American community, especially children, are fearful. Jamil noted that people with traditional Muslim names like Mohammed are shortening their names to “Mo.” He also condemned the words of politicians who he said are encouraging hate.

“Why do we have fear to reveal the names in the United States, in America, in Queens?” Jamil said. “We should not allow that. Those people, I don’t want to mention the name, those people who feed the machine of hatred and division, they should not call themselves leaders at all.”

Rindy Brandt, an Astoria resident for more than 20 years, attended the event with her children and is one of my many Astoria residents who has visited Haque to show support by shopping at Fatima Food Mart and sharing words of encouragement.

“Our community is very diverse and we celebrate that diversity and I was shocked when I heard that this could happen here,” Brandt said. “I wanted to show the community, the city, the country, the world that that’s not ok here or anywhere.  [Haque has] always been there. He’s a nice, hard-working man and just that anybody would go in and beat up anybody is unacceptable.”

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Councilman Costa Constantinides, state Senator Jose Peralta and Public Advocate Letitia James also attended the event to denounce the attack.

“Mr. Haque is a true American story,” Constantinides said. “He came to this country, he opened a small business and he’s given back to this community.”

Sadyia Khalique, director of operations at the Council on American-Islamic Relations encouraged all Muslims who are victims of hate crimes to contact her office for help.

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joe December 10, 2015 / 06:09PM
Last Friday, Mayor de Blasio gave a speech to a group of Muslims about hate crimes in Jamaica, even though there has been no such incidents and now Public Advocate Letitia James makes an appearance at an event in Astoria where a Muslim Shop keeper, Sarker Haque, was beaten and which is being treated as a hate crime. Nothing wrong with James making an appearance, but why hasn’t this black female leader made an appearance in Jamaica, which has major quality of life issues from shootings and killings of mostly young black men, lack of proper services, major garbage issues, illegal conversions, dangerous illegal truck driving on many residential streets that cause pollution, noise and safety issues, leaking MTA buses, tons of crap like waste facilities & homeless shelters dumped into the community and many other issues that residents have brought up over and over again. It is not like James it not aware of this (she damn well is), she receives my many emails regarding complaints to her office as well as community activist Pamela Hazel’s many complaints, yet never a response from her and certainly not a visit. The only time she was out here in Jamaica was to stump for that useless elected official Leroy Comrie when he was running for the Senate. So what gives Letitia, is it that Muslims are the flava of the month and you figured you would get a good photo op, is it that black communities do not matter to you, Muslims are a good political tool at the moment, WHAT. Even former Public Advocate de Blasio sent some of his office folks to Jamaica after my sending many photos of all the issues that we deal with in Jamaica. I was even called to come down to his office to discuss the matter, not that much ever happened after that, but at least there was a sense of some care, if even is was false. But with you, NOTHING. Not to make nothing of this act against Haque, but this was just one isolated act, ONE. Jamaica has been dealing with major issues and problems for decades, yet you, Melinda Katz (hell, it took her long enough to speak out in regards to all the fires in her hood) and the Mayor never address them and certainly do not make an appearance to see what we deal with on a daily basis. There has been much grumblings about black leaders not caring about black communities and this is just another glaring example of………………..”you are on your own.” So I guess there really is not difference between black leaders and white leaders, neither seem to really give a shit about their constituents or their community, unless it results in a photo-op of “Yes, I care”. Typical political BS! https://cleanupjamaicaqueens.wordpress.com/
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Renee Brown December 10, 2015 / 20:08PM
This has nothing to do with your comment by the way...it's a comment I have after reading the story..I have lived in nyc my whole life and certain areas are not diverse..when I hear that word to describe a neighborhood a red flag goes up.

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Renee Brown December 10, 2015 / 19:42PM
Well spoken Joe..I could not have said it better..so true. Oh and btw (ehile reading the story) since when is Asoria a "diverse" community? What makes up a diverse community? I thought it meant every race or cultural . Since when is Astoria Queens diverse?? There are only "certain" people living there..same thing for Jackson Heights..it's also called "diverse" what a crock of bull...


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