Bilal Kaleem considers the terrorism-related charges facing Tarek Mehanna and is troubled for many reasons.

Bilal Kaleem considers the terrorism-related charges facing Tarek Mehanna and is troubled for many reasons.


Muslims are already feeling a backlash from the Sudbury man's arrest, says Kaleem, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Boston.


"That's the biggest fear, that this will snowball the paranoia," said Kaleem. "Muslims are being painted with a broad brush of mistrust."


In the wake of Mehanna's arrest, members of various congregations find themselves surrounded by media and placed under pressure and scrutiny, he says. Families and children, he says, are frightened of being recognized as Muslims, feeling under siege by their neighbors' fears, society's growing mistrust, and cameras in front of their schools, mosques and homes with "reporters asking unending questions."


"The media has to take on a harder task," he said. "We have to analyze it in more subtle and mature ways."


He suggested the media should delve into whether Mehanna's case was another instance of a disaffected kid from the suburbs.


He worries that developments such as Mehanna's arrest will create an atmosphere that could put a damper on his organization's goal of getting Muslims involved through civic activism.


"It prevents civic-minded Muslims from participating in a meaningful way. My worry is that the Muslim is becoming marginalized in the civic and public sphere," said Kaleem. "Almost every place of worship (during the planning phases) faces tremendous opposition on the local level."


Kaleem condemned violence and terrorism or the planning of such acts multiple times, and stressed that the allegations Mehanna faces have yet to be proven.


"If these accusations are true, then we are horrified, and unequivocally condemn the prospect of such acts, and we pray for justice," he said.


He was not the only one to stress that Mehanna still had yet to get judicial due process.


Farooq Ansari, a Muslim living in Westborough, had similar sentiments.


He said his first reaction of shock and surprise was quickly followed by the thought of "Well, we'll have to see what the truth is."


"Allegedly. That word 'allegedly' is very important. We tend to ignore that word and move on," he said. "I think a lot of people tend to jump to conclusions."


Of possible fallout from the arrest, Ansari said, "Religious stereotyping has been going on for quite some time in some form or shape. That is not something that is brand new."


Michael Jacoby Brown, executive director of Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations Acting for Hope, also hoped the arrest would not bring forth a backlash of intolerance.


"I hope people are smart. When Timothy McVeigh blew up Oklahoma City, there wasn't a lot of ill will against Irish-Americans," he said.


Brown, citing Mehanna's education at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services noted dryly, "What are people going to do now - say 'all pharmacists are terrorists?' Of course not."


John Duff, who teaches a course on al Qaeda at Regis College in Weston, questioned if anything could be done to quell anxiety over Muslims in the aftermath of terrorist investigations.


"It's unfortunate but it's fairly clear that the violent minority of the Muslim world is advocating death to the infidels," he said. "And the peaceful people suffer from looking like those who support such violence. I don't think you can eliminate all of that."


Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or at dmcdonal@cnc.com.