Almontaser: Violence of a few doesn't represent Islam

NYPD officers in Times Square. (Getty Images)

NYPD officers in Times Square. (Getty Images) (Credit: NYPD officers in Times Square. (Getty Images))

Last Thursday New Yorkers everywhere felt a sinking feeling in our stomachs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed that the Tsarnaev brothers had planned to bring the same acts of terror that shook the Boston Marathon to our own Times Square.

It was sickening to learn that the terror we saw in Boston was intended for our own city as well. It also reinforced the gratitude we all feel for the heroic efforts of law enforcement officials for finding the suspects before they could strike again.

For those of us who lived in New York City 12 years ago, Boston brought a flood of memories of what it was like to live through 9/11 and its aftermath. As an American Muslim -- one of an estimated 800,000 Muslims in New York City -- I will never forget the generosity of complete strangers from all faiths who quickly recognized our communities' unique fear. We worried about becoming victims twice: from being victims of terror to being victims of backlash by our own neighbors.

Sadly, I also can't forget the bullying of our children, discriminatory policing and numerous hate crimes against houses of worship and Muslim, Arab and South Asian New Yorkers that followed.

Now some elected officials, including Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), are using Boston as a political ploy to justify expanded surveillance of the American-Muslim community. New Yorkers have seen how ineffective the NYPD surveillance program has been in preventing terror. Last summer it was revealed that the head of the NYPD's Demographics Unit testified that the program never -- not once -- developed an actionable lead or a terrorist investigation.

What did the program actually achieve? Alienating an entire community of patriotic Americans in New York City.

We are all in this together. We must hold our political leaders accountable for rhetoric aimed at dividing us in these moments of great tragedy.

The Boston runners and the heroic first responders came from all corners of the world and all faiths and backgrounds. Terror has no faith. The actions of a few will never reflect the community nor the religion that the radicals claim to come from. The purpose of terror is to divide us, but we exemplify the best in humanity when we stand together.

Debbie Almontaser, a longtime resident of New York City, is the founding and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn. She is the board president of the Muslim Consultative Network, afaith-based nonprofit in Manhattan.

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