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Conflict in Iraq worries local Muslims

By Ed Brock

As he watched the "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad, Mazhar Pasha, chairman of the board for the Masjid Al-Ihsaan in Riverdale, saw far more than just fireworks.

He saw the innocent people who are losing their lives and homes in the bombings.

"God created them as God created you," Pasha said. "Everybody's going to be liberated. Where? Under the ground?"

Pasha and other members of the Muslim community in Clayton County are watching the war with sadness and concern for both the people of Iraq and the American soldiers and their families. They may believe Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has to go, but they worry about the ramifications of America's involvement in the Middle East.

"This is an uneven deal with the Middle East," said Shahir Raslan, another member of the Masjid Al-Ihsaan. "If America is trying to serve democracy to the Middle East, let's do it for everybody."

Raslan said that many Arabs are unhappy about America's seeming one-sided support of the Israeli government, currently led by Ariel Sharon, a man Raslan says is as big a war criminal as Hussein is. He was referring to Sharon's recent policies in the Palestinian territories, including the destruction of over 1,300 Palestinian homes, Raslan said.

"To take Saddam out will be celebrated," said Raslan. "But let us pay attention that there is another war criminal a few hundred miles away."

Another visitor to the Riverdale mosque, Shakir Mumtaz of Norcross, spoke out against the war.

"It's definitely not a good move on the part of this country," Mumtaz said. "It will definitely turn a lot of people against this country's policies."

Sardar Sheikha and his family, residents of Morrow, are Muslims and Iraqi Kurds who, while they are concerned about the loss of innocent life, support the war as needed to protect the people of Iraq from Hussein. Hussein is already killing innocent people, 16-year-old Chyan Sheikha said, so it's better to take the chance of war than to live under Hussein.

Raslan, a native of Syria who is now an United States citizen, said many Muslims who, like he, came to America from Middle Eastern countries did so because of dictators like Hussein. But he is afraid that this country's freedom of speech may have been lost on Sept. 11, 2001 along with the World Trade Center towers in New York.

"Our love of this country goes beyond putting flags on our cars. The American people know that Muslims love this country as much as any other community here. We pray to God almighty that He give guidance to Mr. Bush to do righteousness."