hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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September 8, 2011

Muslim-Americans say their faith hijacked

LAWRENCE, Mass. — He's lived in Lawrence, Mass., for 13 years. He speaks fluent English. He is on the local zoning board and he's running for election to the school committee.

Couldn't get much more American than that.

Yet when Kemal Bozkurt travels — especially to and from his homeland of Turkey — he is treated like a criminal.

"I don't have a problem personally in the city or in my job," said Bozkurt, a librarian at the Lawrence Public Library. "But Muslim-Americans have been affected negatively. With Homeland Security, there is a paranoia."

Every summer, Bozkurt takes a trip to Turkey to visit relatives. And every year since 9/11, he has been detained on his return, sometimes for three or four hours, by government agents who ask the same questions over and over while his wife and children wait.

"When will this end?" asks an exasperated Bozkurt. "There are bad people in every culture and every religion. But because of a few bad people, we are all penalized."

As the nation reflects on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps no group of people in this country has been more adversely affected than Muslim-Americans. Whether it's profiling by airport security or anti-Islam slurs by bigots, Muslim-Americans have put up with a lot, said Bozkurt.

But it's not all bad, he said, noting the flip side of 9/11 has been the bringing together of people of different faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities.

"After Sept. 11, there were some good things," Bozkurt said. "Many Americans didn't listen to the media and the politicians. They found a Koran and learned what is Islam. When they found the real Muslim, they found that we don't kill. It's impossible," sad Bozkurt.

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