[News] New York Town Wants Local Muslims to Dig Up Their Cemetery
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 27 17:33:02 EDT 2010
Posted: September 27, 2010 12:10 AM
Upstate New York Town Wants Local Muslims to Dig Up Their Cemetery
A town in upstate New York is trying to force a local Muslim
religious community to dig up a small cemetery on its property and
never bury anyone there again because it says it's illegal.
"What we would not want is an unauthorized cemetery," says Bob
McCarthy, town supervisor of the Delaware County town of Sidney,
population 5,993. "We're taking care of a bunch of cemeteries, and
they just came in and buried the bodies, and didn't go
through...there's no funding there, it's not a standard kind of deal,
and it's going to become a liability to the town."
So what steps have the Muslims skipped? "I don't know what the exact
law is," he says.
Which is the problem; because whether or not the town government
likes it, there <http://www.dos.state.ny.us/cmty/cemfaqs.html>are no
laws in Sidney -- or New York state, for that matter -- covering
cemeteries on private land -- religious cemeteries included. Plus,
cemetery in 2005.
In any event, the cemetery, in the tiny hamlet of Sidney Center, was
never a secret -- and couldn't have been: When the first body arrived
in November, 2009, it had a 3-car escort from the Passaic, New Jersey
Police Department, which necessarily told local authorities it was arriving.
And there's certainly nothing illegal about it as far as the State
Troopers are concerned. "We looked into the cemetery and it was
determined what they were doing is lawful," says Captain James Barnes
of the New York State Police, Troop "C," based in Sidney.
This apparently isn't stopping the town board. Town attorney Joseph
Ermeti wouldn't speak with us, but two other town officers indicated
that in the absence of specific laws forbidding the cemetery, the
town may try for a court order to force the Muslims to dig up the
graves, based on a New York law against cemeteries on mortgaged land
-- a technicality that covers the Muslim site, sitting in a hillside
glade no larger than a Manhattan studio apartment.
Shaykh Abdul Kerim al-Kibrisi, leader of the Sufi group -- called
<http://naksibendi.org/>Osmanl Nak - 'bendi Hakkani Dergah -- says he
just discovered the problem himself, and is correcting it -- his
options being to either subdivide the property to exclude the
cemetery, or to pay off the mortgage, which is under $200,000.
In any event, whether a lawyer could convince a court that a
650-square foot cemetery on mortgaged property so offends the dignity
of the law that it merits digging up bodies is the sort of fine
distinction only lawyer could love. Likewise, there's the question of
whether taking such a course is wise, since the town's actions could
attract all sorts of unwelcome attention -- and possible civil rights lawsuits.
"Islamophobia is something we're definitely aware of," says James
Mulvany, Deputy Commissioner of the New York Division of Human Rights.
Some interested parties are certainly looking at the religious bias
angle -- in part because the board took its first official steps in
July, just as the so-called
"<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park51>Terror Mosque" controversy was
"It's like Sherlock Holmes used to say," says Ibrahim Hooper,
national communications director of the
<http://www.cair.com/home.aspx>Council on American Islamic Relations
(CAIR), which <http://www.anti-cair-net.org/>has attracted its own
Islamophobes. "When everything that's untrue is disproved, what's
left must be true, and this is obviously bias."
Feelings in Sidney about the cemetery are certainly strong. Asking a
sampling of people in Sidney drew responses ranging from a
deer-in-the-headlights stare followed by categorically denying
knowing anything about it, to a strong stare and a curt, "mind your
In fairness to both the town and Sidney Center -- population 1,391,
area 44 square miles -- the Shaykh, in his flowing robes, long beard
and turban, must cut quite a figure to deeply traditional, rural Americans.
And the fears that fasten on him and his followers aren't helped by
the fact that in the past year or so, Muslims have been buying
property near the center, spurring speculation that the ultimate plan
is to create a town-within-a-town, governed by Sharia law.
"I understand [those fears], but that's not our intention," says the
Shaykh, who says no more than a half-dozen Muslims have bought
property nearby. "They just want to participate [in the center], get
away from the city, and live a clean life."
And in fact that's exactly why the Shaykh and his 30-some followers
moved to the 50-acre sheep farm in Sidney Center in 2002, his basic
teachings being that since the world is what it is, people who want
to live a spiritual life need to live apart from it -- not unlike
Hasidic Jews or Amish people.
But that hope hasn't stopped what the community considers harassment.
Hans Hass, a spokesman for the group and member of the local EMS
team, says that while most relations with their neighbors are civil,
some trucks do blare their horns and throw rocks at the little
farmhouse on Wheat Hill Road.
Then, he says, there have been the "dozens" of visits by various
police departments since 2002 -- including one in 2003, made by the
FBI on a Muslim holy day -- the Eid-ul Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
That visit, says Capt. Barnes, was triggered by a report that a man
wanted for murder was seen on the property. Hass says it was because
of reports of "people with turbans." Captain Barnes says his men have
made "only about a half-dozen" official visits to the center,
although he concedes there may have been more, unofficial visits from
members of his Troop as well as Delaware County and Sidney police.
At the end of the day, the entire hoo-hah may be the result of third
parties using the town as a cat's paw to attack the Shaykh and his
followers. An email from one Salih Kalfaoglu and made available to me
accuses the center of being a fraudulent, for-profit venture (an
email to the address on the email requesting comment wasn't returned).
Another email, from McCarthy to a third party, discussed telephone
calls from someone claiming Tea Party affiliation who "...wanted to
know how he could help with 'the Muslims.'" In that email, McCarthy
says "all outward signs...indicate this is a for profit venture and
should not receive any of the benefits afforded to a religion."
None of this, says Hass, who was born in Maine, is what the Shaykh
and his followers want. "We hope to put down our roots and live here
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