I was Brooklyn bound – or so I thought. I took the subway to see a fellow alumna of New York’s High School of Music and Art (as today’s LaGuardia High School for the Arts was then called). I looked forward to the nostalgic reunion. I hadn’t been in NYC for ages, and catching up with an old classmate seemed an indispensable component of walking down memory lane.
What’s more, Kathy still lives at the same address in the cozy middle-class neighborhood where I sometimes visited her way back then. It was common for the house-proud Irish to keep property in the family, and hence I’d soon reenter the two-story red-brick home in whose wood-paneled rec-room we occasionally whiled away hours.
But when I climbed up the grimy station stairs and surveyed the street, I suspected that some supernatural time-and-space warp had transported me to Islamabad. This couldn’t be Brooklyn.
Women strode attired in hijabs and male passersby sported all manner of Muslim headgear and long flowing tunics. Kathy met me at the train and astounded me by pointing out long kurta shirts as distinguished from a salwar kameez. She couldn’t help becoming an expert.
She’s now a member of a fast-dwindling minority because “people are running away. We’re among the last holdouts of our generation. My kids have fled.”
Pakistani and Bangladeshi groceries lined the main shopping drag, and everywhere stickers boldly beckoned: “Discover Jesus in the Koran.” An unremarkable low-slung building on the corner of Kathy’s block was now dominated by an oversized green sign identifying it as Masjid Nur al-Islam (the Light of Islam Mosque) and announcing that “only Allah is worthy of worship and Muhammad is his LAST prophet.” Here too Christians were urged to “turn to the Koran” if they were “genuinely faithful to Jesus.”
It wasn’t hard to identify the remaining non-Muslim residences. Kathy’s was typical. A huge American flag fluttered demonstratively in the manicured front yard, accompanied by a large cross on the door and an assortment of patriotic/jingoistic banners.
“We’re besieged,” she explained. “Making a statement is about all we can do. They aren’t delighted to see our flag wave. This is enemy territory.”
LEST I judge her paranoid, Kathy began regaling me with what she knew about the mosque a few doors down her street, still as tree-lined as I remember but somehow less pretty and tidy, even vaguely grubby.
Kathy had compiled a bulging dossier of press clippings and computer printouts about the masjid that grew in a once heavily Jewish area. Until the mid-1990s, its imam was the late Egyptian-educated Gulshair el-Shukrijumah, dispatched by the Saudis as a Wahhabi missionary in 1985 and financed by them thereafter. His disciple, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, an explosives specialist, possibly helped assemble the bomb detonated in the ’93 World Trade Center attack. He was convicted of plotting to blow up the UN, FBI headquarters and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. Gulshair acted as interpreter for Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh” now serving life for the first WTC bombing, conspiring to use explosives at other NYC landmarks and colluding to assassinate US politicians.
Nabbed operational commander of the 9/11 plot, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, fingered Gulshair’s eldest son Adnan as having been designated by al-Qaida and personally approved by Osama Bin-Laden to lead new terror assaults and serve as successor to Muhammad Atta, with whom Adnan was connected. Adnan received flight training and is dubbed “Jaffar the pilot.” He was likewise linked to “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, Hamas and al-Qaida fund-raiser Adham Hassoun, and terrorist Imran Mandhai (convicted of conspiring to bomb the National Guard armory, South Florida electrical substations, Jewish-owned businesses and community centers, and Mount Rushmore).
Kathy’s ex-neighbor is now a fugitive and subject of a worldwide FBI manhunt. Adnan’s brother Nabil, incidentally, uploaded to his Web page an image of Jerusalem ablaze with the caption: “Al Kuds, we are coming.”
BUT OF more immediate concern to Kathy and the few leftover neighborhood natives is the “in-your-face insolence of the immigrants.” For years the mosque had been calling the faithful to prayers via a rooftop loudspeaker five times daily. Police intervention persuaded the imam to omit the pre-dawn sonorous summons. Catholic Kathy knows all about “Allahu akhbar” and how the muezzin intones it.
“I’m not a bigot,” she stressed repeatedly. “The Jewish community which once flourished here was so different. This was always a pluralistic live-and-let-live section. The jihadists, however, aren’t here to coexist but to conquer. The Jewish community here was so different. They weren’t on the offensive. They just wanted to be left alone.”
She recalled her brother Eddie, whose best childhood friend was the son of a nearby Orthodox rabbi. During his teens Eddie was regularly recruited by his chum to the minyan until he was roused too early one winter morning and exclaimed: “What do you want from me? I’m not even Jewish!”
“This kind of a relationship,” Kathy commented, “just isn’t possible these days. Muslims call us infidels and want all infidels out. We’re threatened.”
On the way back, I decided to photograph the masjid, sensing it could make a story. Kathy became frantic. “Don’t you dare,” she almost yelled. As I slipped the camera back into my handbag, she explained that several weeks before my arrival two journalists, Bos Smith and Paul Williams, HAD photographed a similar Brooklyn mosque, Masjid al-Takwa. They were grabbed by 20 ninja-uniformed men, shoved into the mosque cellar, held captive and roughly interrogated by the group’s henna-bearded leader, Ali Kareem. He released them only after they fibbed that they were interested in converting to Islam. On a subsequent visit to the site they were accosted again and an attempt was made to seize and break their camera.
“I don’t know who may be watching us now,” Kathy warned.
Nevertheless, I perused the notice board near the entrance and learned that enrollment is on for the mosque school (where Gulshair once taught) and that if I hang around I could hear one Abu Yousuf lecture on “protecting yourself from Shaytan (Satan) this summer.”
Alternatively, I could seek sanctuary from Shaytan in Israel. It suddenly seemed way safer than certain Brooklyn nooks.