Battling Rumors and Hatred

While a great deal of camaraderie and unity has come from this tragedy, so has a great deal of fear, hatred and rumors. Many of you may have heard the stories of Muslim residents of Paterson, NJ celebrating after the WTC attack. These stories are UNTRUE. Just as it was a small faction of scum that perpetrated the attack itself, the same can be said about those spreading these false rumors.


First off, I’d like to thank everyone on the WE Fest list, my mailing list and others for their thoughts and concerns about those of us in the NYC Metro area.

While a great deal of camaraderie and unity has come from this tragedy, so has a great deal of fear, hatred and rumors. Many of you may have heard the stories of Muslim residents of Paterson, NJ celebrating after the WTC attack. These stories are UNTRUE. Just as it was a small faction of scum that perpetrated the attack itself, the same can be said about those spreading these false rumors.

Adding to this problem is that many of the folks that we rely on for news in this country act on sensationalism rather than fact. Several NY radio personalities were reporting these rumors as truths thus stirring up more anxiety in an already tense society.

Below is a story from the Bergen Record newspaper regarding these rumors. Please pass this along and remember that we are all Americans whose families, at one time, came from somewhere else. Nobody likes to be the target of hatred therefore nobody should want to be the weapon of hatred.

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Battling rumors — and hatred
Thursday, September 13, 2001
By John Chadwick – Staff Writer

Paterson officials struggled Wednesday to dispel a widespread but apparently false rumor that Muslims had staged a celebratory demonstration and rioted in a city neighborhood after the World Trade Center tragedy.

The rumor heightened fears of an anti-Muslim backlash and prompted a city official to condemn a popular New York City radio show for repeatedly allowing callers to denounce the demonstration without verifying that it occurred.

Both Paterson police, who have been operating a mobile substation in the Arab enclave of South Paterson since Tuesday night, and Mayor Marty Barnes said there have been no public gatherings by the Muslim community. Local Islamic leaders have repeatedly condemned the attack and say they are urging their community to donate blood and help with the rescue operation.

“There have been no protests, no rioting, and no celebrating,” said police Capt. William McElrath. “There was obviously some crackpot who wanted to get this information out there.”

Yet the rumor proved remarkably difficult to dispel, moving briskly through e-mails, telephone conversations, and at least one radio show.

Paterson spokesman Bob Grant said he notified WPLJ-FM after he heard callers on the station’s morning show denouncing Arabs for celebrating in Paterson streets.

Grant said the disc jockeys, Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill, echoed the angry sentiments of callers without questioning whether the incident took place.

Grant said the DJs mocked his insistence that no demonstration had occurred.

“They were making derogatory and sarcastic comments about the people of Paterson,” Grant said. “If I had the ability to charge them with hate crimes, I would do it in a minute.”

Bruce Goldberg, executive producer for the “Scott & Todd in the Morning” show, said so many people called in about an incident in Paterson that it made sense to discuss it on the air.

“We did not report it as news,” he said. “This was people calling up wanting to air their horror.”

A number of people called and e-mailed The Record asking why the alleged demonstration went unreported. Grant said one television reporter called City Hall saying he had heard two people died in the incident.

“It’s just crazy,” Grant said.

Meanwhile, Muslims reported some instances of minor harassment. Hani Awadallah, president of the Arab-American Civic Organization in Paterson, said he received several threatening telephone messages. The president of a mosque in Toms River said someone broke a window and left a hostile telephone message.

State Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. said his office and state and local authorities have received several reports of verbal harassment of Arabs, but had not confirmed any as a bias crime as of Wednesday night.

“These acts will only make a bad situation worse,” acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said. “We will investigate and prosecute all such acts.”

In Teaneck, school officials said the Al Ghazaly Junior/Senior High School will remain closed until Monday and that police were requested to be on hand when the school reopens.

“We’d rather be safe and not sorry,” said Waheed Khalid, president of Dar-ul-Islah mosque, which runs the school.

Khalid said he has heard a few complaints. Some women wearing head scarves were harassed by cars that passed on local streets, he said.

There were some brighter moments. In Paterson’s Eastside Park, Muslims joined Christian and Jewish residents in a brief prayer service.

Mohamed Younes, one of the leaders of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, said his Jewish friends and business associates called him to see if he was encountering any problems. Younes said Muslims are working hard to condemn the attack.

“A true Muslim wouldn’t do something like this,” he said. “Whoever did this has no soul.”

The director of the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League, though frequently at odds with Muslims over Israel, issued a statement condemning attacks on houses of worship and declaring Islam a valuable part of America’s faith community.

“The existence of all of these religions on American soil is a prime source of our strength as a nation and as a people,” Shai Goldstein said in a statement. “We must stay focused on the facts and condemn all stereotypes and expressions of bigotry.”

Staff Writer John Chadwick’s e-mail address is chadwick@northjersey.com. Staff Writers Michael Casey and Eman Varoqua and The Associated Press also contributed to this article.


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