By Lynn Edmonds
Over 70 people attended a rally last Thursday in solidarity with Sarker Haque, a small business owner in Astoria, after an attacker allegedly punched him and slammed him against the refrigerator in his store, shouting “I kill Muslims.”
Young professionals, retirees, and parents with children perched on top of their shoulders gathered tight around Haque and the elected officials as they spoke out against the attack.
Some held signs like one that said “All our welcome in Astoria,” with the word “welcome” in Spanish, Greek, and Arabic, and several said that they had taken the morning off from work so that they could attend the rally. Still more brought along cards and flowers for Haque and stuck around after the rally to buy goods in his store, Fatima Food Mart, as a show of solidarity.
Local politicians, who organized the rally, condemned the alleged hate crime in strong terms.
“Mr. Haque, I’m sorry what happened to you. I can’t tell you how disgusted I feel. But I’m so proud to see all of Astoria out here today to support and to unite together to say that this behavior is not acceptable,” Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said.
“This is his neighborhood. This is his community as much as everyone else’s,” Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) stressed.
The Councilman spoke warmly of Haque’s involvement in the community, describing a press conference on pedestrian safety where Haque had handed out free coffee to the attendees.
Several of the polticians criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for saying that Muslims did not belong in the country.
“Make no mistake, what you’re seeing happening here, what happened in Philadelphia where a mosque was vandalized, these are the direct results of the hatred that is being inspired in the national debate,” State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “What Donald Trump and his kind are doing is creating an environment where people who want to commit hate crimes feel emboldened to do so,” he said.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) had a message for the attacker.
“Enough is enough, and if you try that again, you’re going to have to deal with the community. You’re going to have to deal with all of us united as one,” Peralta said.
For his part, Haque became emotional as he spoke about the life that he’d built in the United States over 28 years.
“This is my country. I was in this country since I was 21 years old. I came alone. I came alone. Now, I have a beautiful family. A wife and five kids,” Haque said. “I am proud of this country. That’s why I am here. I’m from Bangladesh. I get everything, this country gave me everything.”
He expressed tearful gratitude toward the Latino man who came to his rescue, by pulling the attacker off him and holding him down until the police came.
“Most of the people have the humanity. Some of them are animals. But he help me,” Haque said. “Thanks to him. I don’t want to mention his name, because he said don’t mention his name.”
While he was under attack, Haque feared for his life, he said. But he urged Muslim Americans not to cowed by violence.
“Muslims are not terrorists. We are American Muslims. We must not be victims of hate crimes. I ask all my Muslims, brothers and sisters, not to be afraid,” he said.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana