Friday, June 24, 2005

Local Insurgents: ‘Islamic Thinkers’ Menace Gay N.Y.

Local Insurgents: ‘Islamic Thinkers’ Menace Gay N.Y.

On the evening of July 11, 2004, Kristine Withers walked down 37th Avenue, a main drag in Jackson Heights, Queens, and passed what had become a familiar sight: a group of tables set up on the sidewalk by the Islamic Thinkers Society, a local group of militant Islamists. On the tables, copies of the Koran and books espousing the group’s strict religious beliefs shared space with tracts on Zionism, pamphlets on the dangers of homosexuality, and signs bearing messages like “Your Terrorists Are Our Heroes.”

Ms. Withers, who identifies herself as a lesbian and a political conservative, was offended by the group’s message. The Islamic Thinkers Society had become a regular feature at local gay-pride parades, where they’ve called for the castration and death of gay men, according to several witnesses who spoke to The Observer. But Ms. Withers said it was as much the anti-American messages as the anti-gay ones that riled her up.

“To me, it’s synonymous with the Nazis recruiting on 42nd Street during World War II,” she said of her antagonists.

So, in another installment of the then-yearlong series of hostile exchanges between her and the group, she decided to do something. At one point in the exchange, she told the dozen or so bearded young men who make up the group that the prophet Muhammad was a pedophile. They called her a “Christian bitch,” by her account. Then she knocked over a sign and stepped on it. Two young bearded men, members of the group, pulled the sign out from under her, sending her flying to the ground.

Soon, police arrived and took a statement from Mohamed Bahi, a student at Queens College who told The Observer that he is not a member of the group. Ms. Withers was charged with incitement to riot and four other counts. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown assigned the case to the unit of his office that handles bias crimes, though Ms. Withers argued that the Queens District Attorney was going after the wrong person for bias.

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