Dearborn: U.S. Muslims express relief after bin Laden's death

By Jeff Karoub

Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- U.S. Muslims who felt the double sting of personal sadness and public suspicion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks greeted the news of Osama bin Laden's death with a sense of relief Monday as well as jubilation.

His death comes at a time when the Muslim community has been under considerable scrutiny and pressure, with congressional hearings in March on the radicalization of American Muslims, controversy surrounding ongoing plans to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site and allegations that about 20 young men have traveled from the Minneapolis area to Somalia in recent years to join a terror group that the U.S. says is tied to al-Qaida.

While divisions always exist in communities as large and diverse as Muslims or Arabs, many said Monday they hoped the news of bin Laden's death would pave the way for the kind of unity in their community and with other Americans rarely seen since the 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I believe this is an important milestone in bringing closure to the deep wound that 9/11 created in America and our community in lower Manhattan," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who had been working to build an Islamic community center near ground zero before a rift with developers.

In Dearborn, where at least one-third of the population can trace its roots to the Middle East, about 20 men of Arab descent gathered very early Monday at a spontaneous rally outside the city hall. They waved American flags, chanted "U-S-A!, U-S-A!" and whooped joyously at passing vehicles.

"This is a special day for us, to show Americans we are celebrating, we are united," said Ahmed Albedairy, 35, of Dearborn, who came to the U.S. from Iraq in 1996. "We celebrate because of the death of the evil Osama bin Laden killed by U.S. forces."

Many Muslims stressed that bin Laden wasn't a true follower of their faith, and Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said he hoped the community's response to his death would help "disassociate him from Islam."

Abdisalam Adam, board chairman for the Minneapolis-based Islamic Civic Society of America, was among Muslims in Minnesota who said he felt some relief at the news of bin Laden's death. He said the past 10 years have been difficult for Muslims, who feel they always need to explain they are not associated with bin Laden, and they are not terrorists.

Several Pakistani immigrants said they thought U.S. leaders made a mistake with the announcement that bin Laden had been buried at sea because people might not believe he was dead.

"When Saddam Hussein was killed it was a big relief," said Tariq Hamid, who has lived in New York for 40 years and owns a restaurant there with his brother. "You saw his face, you saw his pictures and you saw everything. But now that the No. 1 terrorist in the world, where the whole world wanted to see how he's dead and there's nothing."

Tamara Halees, 27, who manages Assayad, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dearborn, said she believes bin Laden's death has provided a chance for people to come together.

"As an American Muslim, his death is exciting to us. This is also a chance for people who are non-Arab or had a different view of American Muslins to see that we're as happy as they are," Halees said. "Because that's not what we support. Our religion as true Muslims doesn't support any violence like that."

Along with enduring suspicion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Detroit-area Muslims -- along with many others -- were frightened by a December 2009 attack in which authorities say a suspected al-Qaida operative with a bomb in his underwear slipped aboard a flight to Detroit and nearly detonated the explosive as his plane approached the airport.

Mohamed Kobeissi, 54, manager of the Arabica Café in nearby Dearborn, said he was looking forward to fresh start after bin Laden's death.

"Sept. 11 brought misery to our life in the U.S. ... we've been under attack for so long," he said. "By seeing him out of our life, period, it gives us comfort that at least no big harm will come to the Muslim community in the U.S. from him or people like him."

In northern Virginia, Imad Jurdi of Alexandria said he prodded his teenage daughter to stay awake to hear President Barack Obama announce the news late Sunday.

"Everybody's celebrating," Jurdi said during a trip to a Falls Church shopping center. "This guy spoiled the reputation of the whole Islamic world."

James Yee knows all about that. A former Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, Yee was arrested in 2003 and charged with mishandling classified material and other crimes in a suspected espionage ring. The criminal charges were later dropped. He now leads the New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"We welcome the announcement that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our nation," Yee said. "It's important to note that it was with the help of Muslims that bin Laden was located and found."

Yaser El Menshawy, former chairman of the New Jersey council of mosques and current chairman of the Islamic Center of Hunterdon County, said bin Laden has grown less relevant with the spontaneous uprisings sweeping the Middle East.

"What he was trying to sell was the only way to take care of the problem of governments in the Middle East was to attack the U.S. because they were supporting these governments," he said. "Once the revolutions and the toppling of regimes started happening, all of a sudden bin Laden lost a lot of his credibility because he wasn't able to accomplish anything with these regimes in 10 years, and people were able to topple them on their own within weeks."

Published: Wed, May 4, 2011