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Muslims live in fear, panelist says

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Noor Ul-Hasan has never been reluctant to speak up on behalf of Muslims living in Utah. But even Ul-Hasan admitted Wednesday night, she sometimes lives in fear.

It was just this week, in fact, that she balked when somebody asked her to put her phone number in a local newsletter. "I said, 'No,' because I don't want to be targeted," Ul-Hasan told a small group attending a city-sponsored panel Wednesday night called "Freedom from Prejudice: Utah's Middle Eastern Voices."

Her fellow Utah Muslims are afraid to attend rallies, for fear that they will be profiled, said Ul-Hasan, who is a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake. Because she has lived in America nearly all her life and has many friends in Utah, she says she knows that if she "disappeared tomorrow," those friends would speak up. But many of the refugees she works with — who have watched Muslims be detained and extradited — don't have that same assurance, she says.

Ul-Hasan's has been a familiar voice in Utah since Sept. 11, 2001, as were most of the other members of Wednesday night's panel. There were familiar calls for continued dialogue and the need to establish personal relationships with people of other backgrounds and faiths.

"We should try to overlook what makes us different," said Ron Zamir, an Israeli who is chief executive officer of Allen Communication Learning Services. "We should talk about the things that bring us together."

Food, for example, Zamir said, turning to fellow panelist Ali Sabbah, a Lebanese Muslim and owner of Mazza Middle Eastern Cafe in Sugar House. "I'm a patron of your restaurant. Our food is our commonality."

As for Sabbah, he thinks Americans have a "great capacity for tolerance" and an ability to understand the difference between an Arab and a terrorist. We should not forget, he said, that prejudice exists everywhere, including in the Arab world. The Holocaust conference being held in Iran "to me is a form of prejudice," he said, and "must be fought by Arabs and Muslims."

Mayor Rocky Anderson, whose office sponsored the Freedom from Prejudice event, urged the panelists to speak up when they see people killing in the name of their faiths. He argued that there has been "deafening silence" on the part of the international Muslim community against suicide bombers and extremists.

The international Sunni leadership is not condemning Al Qaeda or the killings in Iraq, agreed University of Utah history professor Peter Sluglett. "Why isn't anybody apart from Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani saying, 'This is totally unacceptable'?"

Prejudice in America, said Kilo Zamora, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Utah, pre-dated 9-11 and easily blossomed. He thinks the tide is turning, but warned that "we've all been fueled by our own prejudices."

"If we let our prejudice take us forward, we might find ourselves in other wars we don't agree with," said Kilo Zamora, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Utah.


E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com