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Peace Train

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Last Sunday hundreds of people moved west along Devon in a procession that stretched for blocks. Some of the men wore turbans, some of the women wore saris. They chanted slogans in support of the United States. A few wore shirts depicting the American and Pakistani flags side by side. Many waved signs printed with sentiments like "Mr. President, end terrorism forever" and "Pray for world peace."

Starting near the intersection of Ridge and Devon, the parade observed a moment of silence for victims of the September 11 attacks, followed by prayers for peace. After singing "God Bless America," the crowd of mostly Pakistani immigrants headed toward Western, where it was joined by a smaller contingent of Indian-Americans. West of California the Asian businesses give way to Russian bakeries and stores, and at Sacramento the demonstration was joined by a group of Orthodox Jews. Some of the marchers then headed south on Sacramento.

Most of the Pakistani delegation turned back east, crowding into the Sultan's Palace restaurant on Western to hear from their community leaders. Among the marchers was Naved Musharraf, brother of Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf. Naved, a physician who's lived in Chicago for almost 30 years, said he'd been unable to get a call through to his family in Pakistan.

Pakistani-Americans fear a "double jeopardy," says Javed Rathore of the Pakistani-American Association of North America: they could become targets here, while their relatives become targets at home.

Shaukat Sindhu, owner of Sultan's Palace, says he was walking down Western a few days before when a woman on a motorcycle yelled, "Die." He has a young son attending an Islamic center in Morton Grove while his teenage daughter goes to a Muslim prep school in Lombard. Like most of his neighbors, he's kept his children home from school since the attacks.

The idea for the march came from U.S. representative Jan Schakowsky. A proponent of immigrants' rights, Schakowsky says she fears the current terrorist crisis may be used to keep foreigners out and to mistreat those who are already here. On a bus to last Friday's prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, she wondered how Chicago could show its unity. She then proposed the march to Devon community leaders. Alderman Joe Moore joined the demonstration. "We don't know how the nation is going to react to this attack," Moore said, "but Rogers Park has proven that we can live, persevere, work, and pray together."

Still, most of the marchers were disheartened by the country's continued association of terrorists with Islam, and they blame the media for perpetuating this idea. Sindhu cites the word "jihad," which reporters invariably describe as a holy war against Westerners. The Koran, he says, defines jihad as a crusade to defend one's homeland and strictly forbids harming others except in self-defense. At times the Koran refers to jihad not as an armed conflict, he says, but as a figurative battle with one's inner demons.

The Pakistani-American leaders emphasized that Islam does not permit violence against innocents. "Whomever takes away innocent life is not a Muslim," Rathore says. "He's not a Catholic or a Protestant or a Buddhist--he's just a terrorist." The community is also angry about the characterization of Pakistan as kin to the Taliban. "We have always been a friend of America," says Sadruddin Novrani, director of the Asian-American Coalition and a member of the city's Commission on Human Relations. He notes his native country provided vital assistance to the U.S. when it wanted Russian forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan also sent troops to help the U.S. in Somalia in the early 90s. "We'll be there for America," Novrani says. "The question is, will America be there for us?"

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