NY: MUSLIMS LOOK TO PLANT ROOTS IN NORTHERN WESTCHESTER
It was 10 years ago that a group of highly educated, affluent Muslims who had been drawn to the comfortable lifestyle and top-ranked schools of northern Westchester began to pursue a vision of a new community.
They would set up a temporary mosque, begin to meet their neighbors, and start raising money to build a full-fledged Islamic center among the many well-to-do synagogues and churches north of Interstate 287.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 intervened - bringing unexpected waves of attention to their faith and forcing many American Muslims to explain politics in far-away lands. But the focused leadership of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society pressed on, and the community is now ready to plant Muslim roots in the upper county's pricey real estate.
The group bought 8.3 acres on Pines Bridge Road in New Castle in 2004 for more than $1 million, and has introduced plans to construct a two-story building there that would include a mosque, social hall and classrooms. The town's review process is just getting under way.
"I think people here are educated," said Rhonda Khalifeh, 16, a student at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua who is growing up as a suburban Muslim- American. "They understand that just because there are crazy people in the world, it doesn't have anything to do with us."
Developing a mosque this year is a major undertaking, and not only because Muslims must raise cash in lieu of taking out loans that include interest, forbidden by the Quran. With many New Yorkers still basing their impressions of Islam on international news reports, members of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society have to introduce the very concept of an American Muslim community that, in many ways, is classically suburban.
DC: EVANGELICALS, MUSLIMS START RARE DIALOGUE
They sat facing each other, 14 evangelical preachers on one side, 12 U.S-based Arab diplomats on the other. Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., listened as introductions began, and he found himself amazed.
"Robertson, Falwell, Youssef. ... I had heard these names before," Fahmy later recounted, "and I have to admit I was surprised they were here."
The initiative launched at that July 2 meeting came as a surprise to many. The evangelical community is known for its support of Israel, and many of its most outspoken leaders, such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have made incendiary comments about the Muslim world. But in recent months, an unusual rapprochement has begun between these two powerful communities, and the sons of some of those same pastors are participating.
Both sides have a lot to gain from a thaw. At a time when the evangelical leadership is seeking new outlets for influence, both domestically and abroad, it provides the possibility of an entree into the Arab world. For the representatives of the Arab-Muslim world, it offers the potential for improving relations with a previously hostile community as well as with Americans in general.
Whether this dialogue will lead to any concrete changes in an increasingly tense environment remains to be seen.
A DESTINATION, NOT A ROAD MAP
I vividly remember the weeks leading up to the first international conference for Middle East peace. U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who had shuttled frantically to resolve the issue of Palestinian representation, kept the 1992 conference's location under wraps. Once he declared Madrid the site, many of us Palestinians felt a sense of jubilation at the looming discussions.
I thought of this after President Bush's call last Monday for an international parley on the Middle East to be chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I and many other Palestinians are much more skeptical now. Attending the Madrid conference felt essential, but the importance of summits has diminished as such forums have failed to produce results.
Palestinians have been more hurt than helped by the false trappings of a state that were provided as part of the Oslo peace process and the famous White House handshake of 1993. Palestinians got an elected president and a government whose ministers and legislators are not guaranteed passage between Gaza and the West Bank; passports whose numbers must be entered into Israeli computers; a postage system and lightly armed police -- but no real sovereignty over the land or contiguity between our communities in Gaza and the West Bank.
Palestinians have been made to endure hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank, an eight-foot wall deep in our territories and tight Israeli control over borders. In return, Israel was relieved of the need to guard populated Palestinian areas and was no longer obliged to pay public servants or support the occupied population economically as stipulated by international law. (MORE)