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Muslim group CAIR says mission won't end with bin Laden's death

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM

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TAMPA -

The Council on American-Islamic Relations gained prominence on 9/11 when it was one of the first Muslim organizations to denounce the terrorist attacks and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

For nearly 10 years, CAIR and its local chapters had worked to tamp down the backlash against Muslims, raise awareness of hate crimes and inform the public that bin Laden's philosophies represented a fringe group and not all followers of Islam.

That won't end in the wake of bin Laden's death, said Ramzy Kilic, executive director of CAIR's Tampa chapter.

Even as Kilic and other local Muslim-American leaders welcomed the news Monday of the terrorist leader's death, the council's national office reported that a mosque in Portland, Maine had been vandalized.

Graffiti on the walls of the Maine Muslims Community Center read, "Osama Today, Islam Tomorrow" and "Long Live the West," according to a news release.

Kilic said his organization's core programs, which include know-your-rights seminars, civil rights advocacy, diversity training and hate crime awareness, will continue.

A new challenge, he said, is for the organization to help stop the spread of radical extremism and steer Muslim youth here and abroad away from fringe beliefs.

"What happened to bin Laden helps in that sense," Kilic said. "He didn't fulfill his legacy. Our hope is that this will make our jobs easier."

The death of bin Laden also marks a turning point for the Middle East because Muslims now realize that al-Qaida's tactics seem antiquated compared to the peaceful protests — some driven by social media — that have broken out across the Arab world, Kilic said.

"The protests are a slap in the face to al-Qaida," Kilic said. "People are like, 'We've tried communism. We've had our dictators and tyrants.' Now we want true freedom. We want democracy."

Ahmed Bedier, the president of United Voices for America and former Tampa director of CAIR, said he hopes bin Laden's death makes it easier to improve relations worldwide between the Muslim community and others.

"He doesn't represent Muslims," Bedier said. "He didn't represent Islam. He represented himself."

Bedier and Kilic said they are concerned about reprisals from Muslim extremist groups. But that's part of the ongoing work of both organizations to improve race relations and understanding between faiths, they said.

"Violence can breed violence," Bedier said. "Now is the time to show mutual respect."

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