Originally published at Sultan Knish.
Walk along Church Avenue past Beverly Road and turn east onto McDonald Avenue and you will see where the old standards of working class Brooklyn, aging homes with faded American flags and loose siding flapping in the wind, surly bars tucked into the shadows of street corners and the last video stores hanging on to a dying industry give way to mosques and grocery stores selling goat meat.
Mosques grow like mushrooms in basements and above stores offering halal patties, pizza and fried chicken. Newspapers with strange characters peer through the broken glass of red vending machines. Old men glare at interlopers, especially if they are infidel women, and old women finger the fringes of colorful shawls behind the dirty windows of hole-in-the-wall stores.This is where Mohammed Siddiquee settled a dispute the old-fashioned way by beheading his landlord.Mohammed beheaded Mahuddin Mahmud making it a case of Mohammed on Mohammed violence almost in time for the original Mohammed’s birthday. Mohammed wasn’t the first man in Brooklyn to use violence to settle a rental dispute, but beheadings are more traditional in his native Bangladesh than in Brooklyn.
Four years ago in Bangladesh, a bricklayer was murdered and his severed head burned in a kiln because a fortune teller had told the owners that this was the way to make the malfunctioning kiln produce red bricks. Over in Brooklyn’s neighboring borough Queens, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, Bangladesh’s most wanted war criminal, heads up the local Islamic Circle of North America, whose Islamist thugs beheaded poets and buried professors in mass graves.
But beheadings are still unusual on Avenue C even if there is a mosque near Old New Utrecht Road.
Here in Kensington, where the alphabet streets that march across Brooklyn down to the ocean in Coney Island begin, the streets are dusty and the bars retreat along with the alphabet from those areas marked by the green and the crescent, by the alien newspaper and the angry glare. And there is another one like it at the other end of the alphabet where the Atlantic Ocean terminates the letters at Avenue Z bookending the Brooklyn alphabet with angry old men and phone cards for Bangladesh.
These spots are not quite no-go zones yet. There aren’t enough young men with too much welfare and too much time on their hands who have learned that the police will back off when they burn enough things and councilmen will visit to get their side of the story.
For now first generation immigrants who look decades older than they are and their young children walk the streets. That generation will grow up being neither one thing nor the other, neither American nor Bangladeshi, ricocheting from American pop culture to the Koran, from parties with the infidels to mosque study sessions until they explode from the pressure of the contradictions the way that the Tsarnaevs who huffed pot and the Koran in equal proportions did.
It isn’t the old men who plant bombs near 8-year-olds. And it’s not the prematurely aged first generation immigrants who work at construction sites and send money back home. They may keep quiet when they hear such plans being discussed at their local mosque, but they are too tired and too uncertain of this strange country to venture them on their own.
It isn’t the old women in black waiting in line for goat or the young women laughing with their friends outside a pizza parlor, knowing that in a year or two it will be time for them to go back home for an arranged marriage. It is the young men who have too much time and energy on their hands, the pampered princes of the old women who call themselves Freddy or Mo at the local high school or community college, who drink and do drugs and who all their American friends swear aren’t serious about religion, until they suddenly become fatally serious about their religion.
But all that is still in the future. Avenue C hasn’t given birth to its first suicide bomber yet. The Bangladeshi settlements in Brooklyn are quiet places. The mosques rise in gray cement and the tenements and shops close off the streets into small private worlds with their own justice systems, feuds and secrets.
Overhead may be the same washed out Brooklyn sky, but here and there are miniature slices of Bangladesh, Pakistan or Egypt where the air has a stale smell and the atmosphere is threatening.
Immigration has cut these places off from America and attached them surgically to countries that are thousands of miles away. Immigrants step off a plane from Bangladesh at JFK airport, get into a taxi driven by a Bangladeshi playing Bengali pop tapes and step out into a small slice of Bangladesh on McDonald Avenue.And when the infidels of Brooklyn wander into their territory, they are glared at as the foreign intruders that they are.After Mohammed beheaded Mahmud, he rushed to JFK to catch a flight. It was natural for him to think that having settled matters in the brutal style of the Muslim east, that he could fly away as easily as he had arrived here without considering what lay in the intervening spaces of the American Dar al-Harb between the Dar al-Islam of Avenue C and the Dar al-Islam of Bangladesh.
For the Mohammeds of Brooklyn, the infidels are the space between the stars, the empty air between the rungs of a ladder that their foot passes through without noticing. In the Little Bangladesh and the Little Mogadishu and in Dearbornistan and a thousand other places like them, the non-Muslim is regarded as the minority by a majority whose worldwide numbers are too great to view itself as a minority. Its supremacism is founded on a long history of conquests.
They are little aware of the other Brooklyn that they are pushing aside, the great stretches of the working middle class, the little homes where police officers and firefighters once lived together with teachers and clerks, where plumbers walked to work and bus drivers got on, where the thousands of small businesses from diners to pharmacies turned the grassy stretches of land into neighborhoods.
Bugs Bunny was born here with his Flatbush accent along with a million real workers, soldiers, sailors, inventors, engineers, bums and salesmen who won wars, broke cases, sobbed in bars and brought dinner home to their families. And now, like so much of the urban working class, they are being slowly swept away by time and tide, not from the familiar shores of Coney Island, but by the murkier waters of the Karnaphuli River and the strange world that its tides bring to Brooklyn.
Neighborhoods are defined by the people who live in them, not by the lines on a map in the basement of a municipal building. The city has always had its micro communities; Chinatown at the bottom of Manhattan and Little Tokyo near NYU, Little Brazil off Times Square and Koreatown a block up from the Empire State Building. The Russians have their stretch of Brighton Beach with its tea rooms and fur coats and Little Italy’s butcher shops, bakeries and rows of restaurants are still hanging on.
The micro communities have their own micro communities. Chinatown is split over a conflict between the mutually incomprehensible Hong Kong Cantonese speaking Chinese and the Fujianese speaking immigrants of Red China. The Chassidic neighborhoods break down by a hundred religious movements whose names are derived from Eastern European towns. The Mexicans are shouldering out the Puerto Ricans in neighborhoods that city planners refer to generically as Latino.
But Muslim enclaves are different. They are not outposts, they are settlements. They aren’t adapting to the city, the city is adapting to them as many cities around the world do. Islam is not just a culture and the cultures who carry its baggage with them to the old worlds and the new are not toting it along like another ethnic food, a dialect or a national holiday.
In Chinatown, Buddhist temples and protestant churches sit side by side and in Latino neighborhoods, Adventist storefront churches and massive Catholic edifices co-exist; along with them can be found synagogues, Hindu and Zoroastrian temples and the whole dizzying array of religious diversity of a port city defined by its swells and tides of immigrants.
Bangladesh is more than 90 percent Muslim. Hindus are being attacked in the streets of its cities by Islamist mobs because Islam does not co-exist, it does not blend in and add its unique flavors to the multicultural stew pot. The other religions of the city do not demand that everyone join them or acknowledge their supremacy and pay them protection money for the right to exist. Islam does.
Its immigration is also a Jihad, a form of supremacist manifest destiny to colonize the Dar al-Harb and subdue it to the will of a dead prophet with sheer numbers or sheer force.
The number of Bangladeshis in New York has increased by 20 percent in only four years to an estimated 74,000. And those numbers are an undercounting. They don’t take into account the unofficial Mohammeds living in basements while nursing their grudges against their cousins and the whole country. It is a glancing sort of number that shows the accelerated growth of immigrants from a culture with a high birth rate and aggressive immigration strategies.
“I feel like I’m living in my own country,” the editor of one of the Bangladeshi newspapers in New York, and there is more than one, is quoted as saying. “You don’t have to learn English to live here. That’s a great thing!”
And you don’t. The curlicues of the Bengali script are showing up more often on the Rosetta Stones of government communications, already swollen with a dozen alphabets. The Bangladeshi immigration lawyers whose mustachioed faces show up on advertisements will eventually go into politics and become city councilmen, state senators and congressmen. Money will flow to their community centers which will bring in the new generation of hip Saudi-trained clerics as speakers, adept at referencing pop culture while preaching the endless holy war of Islam against the world.
Jamaica, Queens is becoming the center of the Bangladeshi presence in New York. Another Mohammed, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, lived here on the second floor of a typical low rise development, indistinguishable buildings crammed together with no back yards or front yards, the bricks studded with satellite dishes so the dwellers could watch the television programs of their home countries, and plotted the mass murder of Americans.“We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom,” this Mohammed said in a video recorded before his planned terrorist attack. His modest goal, in his own words, was to “destroy America” and quoted “Sheikh Osama” to justify the killing of American women and children.Mohammed described the United States as the Dar al-Harb, the realm of war, the territory yet to be conquered by the armies of Islam, and said that the only permissible reason for a Muslim to move to the United States was to conquer it by missionary work or by armed terror.
“I just want something big. Something very big,” Mohammed said, “make one step ahead, for the Muslims . . . that will make us one step closer to run the whole world.”
That Mohammed is in jail, but there are others like him, with the same humble dream. Some impatiently plot to do it with bombs and others come and live and spread until a minority becomes a majority and the black and white banners of Jihad wave over another formerly free land.
At this hour no one in Little Korea, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Brighton Beach or Koreatown is plotting to destroy America so that his religion can rule the world. That is what sets the Little Bangladeshes, Little Pakistans, Little Mogadishus and Little Egypts apart from every other immigrant group whose dreams for the future are not overshadowed by the iron dream of Islam.