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Daily Democrat – September 8, 2010

Woodland Mosque Public Relations Director
 speaks at Woodland Community College

By James Noonan

Just two days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a pair of guest speakers at Woodland Community College discussed the "new normal" that has developed in America society over the past nine years.

"It was one of those events that you just knew was going to change everything," Jeannette Zanipatin, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal and Defense Fund, commented. "You know, it really did."

Zanipatin was joined during the presentation by Khalid Saeed, national president of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, to discuss challenges faced by both the Muslim and Latino communities post-Sept. 11, as well as outline various changes made to immigration law and national security policy in the wake of the tragedy.  Khalid Saeed101

"I would tell my kids, 'You be careful,' and they would say 'Why be careful, what are we doing wrong?'" Saeed said, choking back tears. "I had to tell them 'You aren't doing anything wrong, you just look like me.'"

Saeed, who is of Pakistani descent and only recently moved from Woodland, noted that while racial profiling and violence was a concern immediately following the attacks, recent events in the media have stirred up a new wave of anti-Islamic feelings across the nation.

"In response to the mosque project, there has been a wave of hate crimes directed toward mosques across the country," Saeed said, referring to the "Park51" building, an Islamic community center slated to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site. "I'm sorry to say that even Woodland's mosque has been vandalized."

Riaz Ahmad, community president for Muslim Mosque and Community Center of Woodland, said that the facilities had been sullied multiple times in the past months, with attacks ranging from rocks being thrown through windows, buildings being pelted with eggs and graffiti found on walls.

Ahmad said that while there had been no such vandalism before the current mosque controversy, he couldn't say with certainty that the crimes were religiously motivated. "(The police) never caught anyone," he said. "So we can't comment on their motivation."

While the issues facing Muslim Americans over the last nine years have been widely publicized, Zanipatin pointed out that changes to America's national security policies following the attacks, some of which were passed unbeknownst to the public, have also created a hostile environment for Latinos, as well as several other immigrant groups. "All immigrants were suddenly terrorists," she said. "That's kind of the way that people were labeled."

One major immigration change that took place in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks was the dissolving of the Department of Justice's Immigration and Nationalization Services, and dividing the agency's responsibilities within the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

"It was a complete change in image," Zanipatin said. "There was a shift from 'welcoming' immigrants to protecting Americans from terrorists."

Following the two speakers, WCC faculty member and event moderator Jesse Ortiz, reminded the audience why such forums were valuable -- especially in a post-Sept. 11 world."This is the kind of dialogue that's necessary," he said. "We live in an environment where we can disagree, but only through open communication can we begin to understand each other."