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Religious Leaders Attack War-Inspired Threats

February 08, 1991|RUSSELL BEN-ALI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the first joint statement made by local religious organizations since the outbreak of the Gulf War, eight groups on Thursday called for an end to harassment of residents based on their religious beliefs or Middle Eastern ancestry.

The organizations called on school administrators and teachers, public officials, the media and all San Diegans to condemn acts of bigotry, harassment and violence.

"By most reports, San Diego seemed to be (showing) an increase of violence directed against communities who are tied to the Middle East by ancestry or religious faith," said Carol R. Hallstrom, regional director for the National Conference on Christians and Jews.

Representatives from San Diego's Hindu, Islamic, Roman Catholic, Bahai and Buddhist communities, as well as others from the County Ecumenical Conference, San Diego Rabbinical Assn. and the National Conference of Christians and Jews issued the joint statement at the Islamic Center of San Diego.

The statement was also supported by religious leaders from the Chaldean Church and an Orthodox Jewish congregation, though the groups could not attend Thursday's press conference, Hallstrom said.

Earlier, Hallstrom brought together the religious leaders to discuss local problems stemming from the fighting in the Persian Gulf. She called the religious leaders' show of support Thursday "an act of unprecedented unity."

"San Diegans may not be able to affect policy in the Middle East, but they can set an example just as these religious leaders have done with their action," Hallstrom said.

There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims living in the county, according to the National Conference of Christians and Jews, plus another estimated 8,000 Iraqi Chaldeans.

Only a small number of harassment cases have been reported, officials said Thursday, and most of those involve verbal threats.

John Graham, an officer with the Police Department's crime prevention unit, said that most harassment cases reported against people of Middle Eastern descent are the result of telephone threats.

Although the problem is not widespread, it's being monitored, he added.

Since the start of the Gulf War, telephone hate calls have been received by the Islamic Center of San Diego, an organization that provides religious, educational and recreational facilities to more than 3,000 Muslims, said Sharif Battikhi, director and imam for the center.

Four weeks ago, a homemade explosive device was found in the bathroom of the center's mosque. The device was defective and could not have gone off, said John Buono, a fire investigator with the Metro Arson Strike Team.

Buono said he did not know of any similar incidents.

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