The young Muslim men, with beards and bullhorns, work the streets of Jackson Heights on the weekends. They surface at parades and protests around the city, loudly declaring America the enemy and advocating for an Islamic state. Several weeks ago, they publicly tore up an American flag as payback for the reported desecration of the Koran at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Their own videos of violence against Muslims, one with the title "Muslim Massacres," have recently appeared on Queens Public Television. In the annals of New York City's political outspokenness and fringe-group culture, the Islamic Thinkers Society may seem unremarkable at first glance. But after 9/11, in the city most damaged and unsettled by the terrorist attacks, the emergence of this young, however limited, Muslim-American voice is strikingly bold. In its fliers and on its Web site, the group describes itself as an "intellectual and political nonviolent organization," but it bears a strong resemblance to Islamist movements in England that try to unite Muslims by inciting anger. . .
After years of quietly ignoring the group, the city's Muslim leaders began to speak out against it this week after reports of the flag desecration. Imams, activists and other leaders worry that the group is misrepresenting Islam, sending a negative message to Muslim youths and damaging a hard-earned, fragile trust between the Muslim community and those in law enforcement. . . Wissam Nasr, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in New York, is drafting a petition he hopes will be signed by the city's imams and others who are likely to sway the group to change its message and style of protest, he said. "On their Web site they say they are not connected to groups abroad but the exact same things are going on in England," said Mr. Nasr. "Where are they getting these ideas from?" Mr. Nasr said he has noticed the group's presence in Queens for at least five years and became annoyed with them at the Muslim Day Parade last summer, when he was trying to register people to vote. "Every time I did that these guys would jump in and say, 'Did you know that voting is haram?'" he said. Haram, in Arabic, means forbidden. "It's all anti-Western stuff," he said. "It's all deriding the West." (MORE)