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In a sense, Lodi was at Ground Zero even before 9/11

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Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:50 am, Sat Sep 10, 2011.

Lodi is thousands of miles from the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and yet in one sense has been at Ground Zero before, during and since Sept. 11, 2001.

Lodi's large Muslim population has given the 9/11 disaster and world terrorism an immediacy that transcends our physical distance from these faraway news stories.

Many of Lodi's Pakistani residents hail from Peshawar and other cities near the tribal regions of Pakistan and the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. They come from places where many Muslim terrorists evade justice and launch a worldwide campaign of fear.

Osama bin Laden, the gray eminence behind the 9/11 attacks, was killed in Abbotabad, some 83 miles from Peshawar.

As much as any Americans, it has been up to Lodians to distinguish between the young Muslim men infected by a cult of terrorism and our neighbors who adhere to the ethics of peace and Godly devotion that is at the heart of Islam.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we look back on two incidents that remind us of the challenge to resist stereotyping our Muslim neighbors.

On Aug. 1, 1993 — long before September 2001 — four Lodi teenagers defaced Lodi's mosque on Poplar Street. The police arrested the young white supremacists in short order. Soon after a second hate crime, a group of Lodians formed the Breakthrough Project to combat racial hatred here.

Some Lodians have been reprehensibly intolerant. Other were compassionate and understanding of their minority neighbors. Before 9/11, Lodi was stepping beyond cultural differences and finding common ground.

After 9/11, in June 2005, the FBI arrested Hamid Hayat, of Lodi, and accused him of lying about his connection to a terrorist training center in Pakistan.

His father also faced charges, and two clerics from the local mosque were deported in the course of the federal investigation. And yet many Lodians pointed out that much of the evidence against Hayat didn't support many of the charges. They noted that the integrity of FBI information was successfully questioned.

Tensions ran high in Lodi, and yet there were no incidents of racial violence or serious vandalism.

Lodians debated, doubted, defended and, in the end, chose to look beyond the strangeness of a foreign culture and rely on America's tradition of accepting differences.

Distrust and skepticism are human traits that we share with everyone. But in the end, Lodi wisely discerned between right and wrong.

If we will trust each other — if Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and spiritually free thinkers will continue reaching out and interacting — Lodi will continue to be Ground Zero for the American ideal of religious liberty.

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