Wahid believes terrorism cases are, in many ways, the civil rights battles of his generation. While outsiders might paint his clients as criminals, he says people like the Khans are being prosecuted for giving money to groups the U.S. government doesn't like. "I think these things are not so black and white," he says. "I think innocent people get caught up in the politics."

Yes, this means Wahid gets threatening emails and letters. But like Hamze, he insists such backlash doesn't get under his skin. "I tend not to really focus on those," he says.

The closest he comes to complaining is to point out that most of his cases have nothing to do with terrorism. In 2006, he defended the Miami man known as the "Shenandoah rapist," accused in a string of sexual assaults and convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl. Yet no one blamed the lawyer. "I think people are more accepting of me representing a serial rapist than they are of me representing an imam [accused of] giving support to the Taliban," Wahid says.

Attorney Khurrum Wahid calls terrorism cases the civil rights battles of his generation.
George Martinez
Attorney Khurrum Wahid calls terrorism cases the civil rights battles of his generation.
Nauman Abbasi runs a nonprofit group dedicated to getting Muslims more involved in politics.
George Martinez
Nauman Abbasi runs a nonprofit group dedicated to getting Muslims more involved in politics.

But sometimes, a clash between his work and personal life is inescapable. Last year, he landed on a federal "Selectee" list — a terrorist watch list. Now he gets a pat down at the airport before flying and can't print boarding passes at home. He smiles when first relating the hassle, laughing at the absurdity of government bureaucracy. But when asked about it later — how does he handle that kind of stigma? — he retreats back to serious lawyer mode. "It tells me that the system is broken."

Wahid's office is a haven for the fresh-faced and ambitious, including a college-student intern who also works with Emerge and a cadre of young lawyers. Nauman Abbasi, the 27-year-old executive director of Emerge, works here too. With his clean-shaven face and gelled, dark hair, Abbasi embodies the vast difference between the older and younger generations of Muslims living in South Florida. He arrives for an interview on a January afternoon wearing a gray blazer and jeans, mourning the damage to the BlackBerry he accidentally dropped that day.

Abbasi grew up in Michigan, the child of North Indian parents. He says his pre-9/11 childhood was "not that bad." But after moving to Florida in 2003, he noticed a marked difference in the treatment of Muslims. Up north, he never heard of pastors burning Qu'rans or people shooting at mosques, as happened in Melbourne in 2006. "No one should have to go through what we are going through as a community," he says.

To him, Muslims in South Florida are following an age-old immigrant pattern. Thirty years ago, they came here to earn money to send back home to places like Pakistan and India. Their goal was to provide for their families and build a mosque. After 9/11, they realized they had no coherent voice with which to condemn the attacks and draw a bright line between ordinary Muslims and terrorists who kill in the name of religion. Now, he wants something better for his peers, particularly those who are stereotyped as budding terrorists. Young men who are seen as criminals tend to get caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy, he says. "It's like a disease. If you have all that hatred built up in you, you're not going to go anywhere."

Abbasi began volunteering for Emerge in 2010 after he organized a successful protest in Sunrise, preventing a garbage dump from being built near the Islamic Foundation of South Florida, a combined mosque and school. He also does P.R. for the Islamic Foundation. Speaking at local mosques about Emerge, Abbasi says he gets a mixed reception. Some people support the group's goal of working with the American political system to create change. Others don't see the point in joining a system that portrays them as terrorists. Abbasi admits bigotry is a serious problem. "We're at the lowest tier of society right now, unfortunately," he says. "People can pick on us."

In 2010, Abbasi was visiting New York City and wanted to see the Wall Street trading floor. But a police officer told him the public viewing area was closed. Eying him, the cop blamed Abbasi for the change. "We've beefed up security because of your people," the cop said.

Abbasi shakes his head, letting frustration creep into his voice. He's also upset by the way the FBI agents handled the arrests of the Khans — surrounding their mosques instead of their homes. "When you go into a mosque with your gun, how does that look?"

But he is troubled by the charges. To kids in the community, seeing 24-year-old Izhar Khan accused of supporting terrorists is shattering. "Here is a guy that's supposed to be a role model, and he's accused of doing something horribly bad."

Like Wahid, Abbasi focuses on his hopes for the future. Emerge places young people in internships with mayors and state representatives, introducing them to elected officials and lobbyists in Tallahassee. If a girl in a head­scarf works in the mayor's office, he says, people will realize, "They're not all terrorists."

Laila Abdelaziz is a model for the change Emerge hopes to create. The 20-year-old Palestinian refugee spent her childhood in Baltimore and moved to Florida in high school. As a teenager, she watched her mother bristle as neighbors ridiculed her traditional headscarf. "She couldn't handle the comments, the looks, driving us to school. She was looked at as an extremist," Abdelaziz says ruefully, as if the ignorance of Americans is a tired, established fact. Eventually, her mom stopped wearing the scarf.

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9 comments
Sid
Sid

"Nauman Abbasi runs a nonprofit group dedicated to getting Muslims more involved in politics."There in a nutshell is your proverbial "Kiss of Death"

FQS9000
FQS9000

Any Muslim who will let his daughter or sister marry a Christian or who doesn't hate a Muslim who converts to another religion is welcome in my neighborhood, life and home.

The rest need deportation, as they are killers beneath their oily smiles.  

Pete Pepper
Pete Pepper

Its sad really.  People just trying to live their lives, but cant thanks to right wing propaganda.  They have been made into the monsters under the bed thanks to all the paranoia.  Not all Muslims are terrorists, much like not all christians are.  Yes, there are bad people of both religions who do evil things, but they are a small percentage of the whole.  People like the criminal Alan West only make things worse.  You would think that they would get the idea into their heads that maybe, just maybe, if you stopped killing and trying to really tick them off, maybe even that small percentage of terrorists  would start to fall off.  Yet, there are still atrocities committed against them.  Any wonder why they REALLY dont like us?  Here is a thought..think of everything we do to Muslims, then turn it around.  How would YOU feel if all this happened to YOU?People need to just grow up.

Guest
Guest

The author fails to mention that the men ALSO stay silent in THEIR prayer room. They ALSO sit with their eyes downcast, and they would ALSO register no reaction to the speaker's comments.

During the Friday sermon, nobody speaks. I can already hear the outraged commenters using the author's oversight as a polemical weapon.

Beware of c.a.i.r....
Beware of c.a.i.r....

Yeah Pete, it is really sad that there are so many dhimmies(look it up) like yourself who are brainwashed by terrorist related(hamas) organizations such as c.a.i.r. into thinking that all muslims are discriminated against, etc. If you look up the F.B.I. hate crime statistics for the last 5 years, you will see 5 times as many hate related crimes against Jews vs. muslims. There is no such thing as islamaphobia, it is a word made up by the muslims from c.a.i.r. to stoke their propaganda and lies in order to deceive dhimmies like yourself into thinking that the poor muslims are picked on. Have you ever noticed that any time a mosque in the U.S. is "vandalized," it is ALWAYS very superficial to the structure(very little damage) and the "criminals" are never caught...? That's because the muslims do the damage themselves to gain sympathy from the dim witted American sheeple!!You know nothing about what the koran says and the world wide caliphate of islam, do yourself a favor and study it, your life may depend upon it in the near future...

Sboyce4
Sboyce4

 Yeah Beware of c.a.i.r.....you know nothing about what the bible says, or the torah or the koran or any other holy book....all you know is the hatred in your heart -- what would Jesus do?

Lvedve
Lvedve

@ Beware of CAIR you are an idiot I'm an American born Muslim and there is no grand Islamic plan to take over this country or the world all we want is to be left alone to worship in peace but clowns like you,Kaufman,Allen West,and the rest of the know nothings want to spread lies,hate,and ignorance

Beware of c.a.i.r....
Beware of c.a.i.r....

Jesus will save me, what will your koran do for you...? There's no hate in my heart, don't have time for it, I'm a realist in the here and now. The muslim's sharia law is the biggest threat to the U.S. Constitution, there is no place for it whatsoever in our system of law. The problem with muslims is that they do not assimilate into Western society and they never will, their sharia forbids it. One of the co-founders of c.a.i.r., Omar Ahmad, has publicly stated that, "islam isn't in America to be equal to ANY other faiths, but to become dominant. The koran, the muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and islam the ONLY accepted religion on Earth."If you're not muslim and you don't get angry after reading that garbage from Omar, then you're not American... c.a.i.r. is DANGEROUS, they are a clear and present danger to the American way of life, they have to be stopped...!!!

 
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