Fear for the future among New York’s Muslims on eve of election

Queens Main

Queens Main

A day before Americans vote in one of the most divisive presidential elections in decades, there is a palpable sense of tension among the citizens of Ozone Park, a quiet, residential neighbourhood in Queens, New York.

People here have a reason to be more apprehensive than most: the area is home to a sizeable Muslim community, mostly made up of immigrants from Bangladesh who moved here around the turn of the new millennium. Halal supermarkets and South Asian restaurants sit next to McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts along the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare. Seven mosques serve the community’s roughly 30,000 inhabitants.

But many fear what the future may hold for them under a Donald Trump presidency should the Republican candidate emerge victorious at the polls. In the course of the months-long campaign, Trump notoriously called on a ban on Muslims entering the country, suggested American Muslims are helping to shelter terrorists and said he wants to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

“I’m scared of him to be honest. The way he talks about people really frightens me. If you ask 10 people in the street they’ll tell you the same thing. People here are scared of Donald Trump,” says 24-year-old grocery store employee Lincoln Alam, who says he’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.

“But that’s normal – when someone threatens your freedom, you don’t like it.”

‘People are scared’

Some would argue that whether Trump wins or not, the often ugly rhetoric of his campaign has already left a mark on the country — and in Ozone Park, in particular.

In August, local imam Alauddin Akonjee and his assistant Thara Miah were gunned down on the streetsin an execution-style killing.

Though police and prosecutors have given no official motive for the killings, for which a 36-year-old man from Brooklyn is facing charges, some in the community immediately linked the murders to Trump and the perceived increase in Islamophobia they say his comments have propagated.

On his way to prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, the same mosque where Akonjee and Miah worked and just two blocks away from where they were murdered, 56-year-old Bazlur Rahman says the election has been “extremely tough” for the neighbourhood’s Muslim population.

“Everyone is very concerned about this election, everyone is talking about it,” he says. “People think Trump is targeting Muslims. They are scared.”

Unsurprisingly, he thinks the vast majority of the area’s Muslims will vote for Clinton on election day.

“They will feel more safe if she wins,” he says, adding: “This country is for everybody. You can’t separate people because they are of a different race or religion.”

Not everyone is as outspoken about their views on the vote. In the uniquely charged climate of this election, there is the sense that, perhaps, some are reluctant to add fuel to the fire.

“No comment,” says 48-year-old Mohammed Uddin, who moved to the US from Bangladesh in 1991, when asked about his views on Trump.

Though he does divulge that he will be voting for Clinton, he believes that “both candidates are well-qualified” and that there are “good and bad things about both”.

If Trump does win, Uddin says, it is unlikely he’ll go through with his ban on Muslim immigrants, something the candidate himself has wavered on during the run-up to election day. “It’s against the constitution,” he says. “His running mate even said so during the debate.” Then he adds with a nervous laugh: “But if things do get bad I can always go back to Bangladesh.”

‘A nation of immigrants’

A block away, Misba Abdin, the president the local Bangladeshi American Community Development & Youth Services organisation, is helping to host a litter-picking event with children from the neighbourhood. He is even more coy when it comes to his voting intentions.

“I believe in right and in good people, but I want to keep it to myself who I’m going to vote for,” he says. Next to him, a passing friend or colleague interjects. “He’s voting for Trump!” he says. It’s not clear if he is joking and Abdin gives nothing away.

“Voting is something that you do in a dark room by yourself,” he says. “I definitely don’t like Trump, but I don’t really like Hillary either. There are good and bad things about both.”

“It’s all just politics,” he says. “But Trump said specifically that he was talking only about radical Muslims and I’m against that, too.”

He does want to remind Trump, however, that his own ascendants came to the USA from a faraway land to enjoy the freedoms the country offers.

“This is a nation of immigrants,” he says. “Trump is an immigrant too even if he was born here. He says this is the land of the free, but if there is freedom for everyone that has to include immigrants, too.”