North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

October 4, 2001

'Peace be with you' - Humboldt's Muslims speak out

Strike imminent at Safeway

New CEO for Pacific Lumber

KHSU cuts Pacifica News

Pulp mill certified chlorine-free

Case back to court

Humboldters called

Get the mercury out

School exit exams

Eel River lays off 100

ADA workshop slated


'Peace be with you'

THE MEANING OF ISLAM IS PEACE," ABDULLAH INFORMS ME. "And the first thing we say when we greet each other is: `As salam o alekum,' and the meaning is `Peace be with you.'"

That may well seem a hard sell to the thousands who lost friends and family in the Sept. 11 rain of terror on New York and Washington, D.C. But, as Abdullah notes: "this tragedy is more than enough for everybody. If the people at the top made this decision, it's just like an attack on innocent people.

"This is not innocent, what they did in New York. They are using the words of Islam in a really bad way, so people can think that Islam is a bad religion. Islam is `be helpful to your neighbor.' It's a philosophy, a philosophy that when you get hungry, we also know that our neighbor gets hungry."

Abdullah first came to America in 1979 as a student at Washington State University in Pullman, but when the war with the Russians broke out he went back to Afghanistan to bring out his wife and their three children. And they began their footsore trek across the hot desert to cross over the border into Pakistan.

"One child on my shoulder," he recalls, "and one child on my wife's shoulder, and one child on somebody else's shoulder. "Uncle," as they called him. "We call people who are older `Uncle,'" he explains, "It doesn't matter if he's our father's brother or not. When I crossed the border the next morning, I couldn't walk. But we trust in God. Everything is in God's hands. Before leaving my country, I was standing in front of my house around sunset time, and a bullet came just in front of me. And I say, `OK, I'm going to leave here.'"

[photo of Abdullah Aziz]As a refugee, he went first to Los Angeles, and he has lived now in Eureka about 13 years.

"And God has given me five children on this side and three children on the Afghan side," he says. (The oldest is a daughter working on her Ph.D. in Galveston, Texas, another goes to Humboldt State University and three are in high school.)

A Muslim, Abdullah is a follower of the Islamic faith, now the world's second largest religion, after Christianity. A slight man who runs a store in Eureka, where I interviewed him between a steady flow of customers coming and going) and who worked earlier as a nurse's aide in General Hospital, insists that he has had no problem in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

"No, no, no," he says. "People I knew in the hospital or the store, we were respecting each other. They know me and what kind of man I am. I don't know a single person who has a single, small thing against me."

Even so, he thought it was "not a good idea" to use his name -- "because of the hatred," he explains, prompting me to come up with the pseudonym.

Certainly there is reason for concern in these volatile times. A letter writer to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat of Sept. 19 came up with that irreverent and contemptible bromide: "America--love it or leave it." (I was wondering how long it would take to show up. Congratulations to Forrest Bernadsky of Sebastapol.) There have been about 40 hate crimes in the United States since Sept. 11, including the fatal shooting of a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona by one of these "love it-or-leave-it" types who didn't know the difference between an Arab and a Sikh. And just this past week, according to a Times-Standard report, a young Arcata man was arrested on suspicion of threatening a person because of racial, ethnic or religious characteristics.

My friend Abdullah, whose English is slightly fractured, occasionally confounds me in our conversation. When I ask his age, for instance, he tells me: "My age is maybe 62 or 63," Maybe? His actual birthdate is not known, he says, so he picked what seemed a likely one. Abdullah shrugs and says, "My country is not date-oriented."

I also meet Abdullah's wife that day, and she tells me that she comes from a family of 11 children. I learn also that both of her parents and both of Abdullah's are still in Afghanistan. Their chances of getting out, along with the thousands of other Afghans making for Pakistan, would seem slim. As Abdullah would put it: "It's all in Allah's hands."

There is no mosque in Humboldt County, but on Friday evenings he joins the seven or eight other Muslims in the county during a prayer meeting in Arcata, sometimes in the home of Abdul Aziz, a 16-year resident of Arcata and a professor of finance at HSU. I met him at his home one recent evening, and figure I'll get the hard question out of the way first.

Aziz answers much as Abdullah did. "No, I have not at all been bothered," he says. (I do note that he has a small American flag on the living room mantle.) "The people have been very supportive," he goes on. "My neighbors, for example, go out of the way to ask how I am. When I go out for a walk, they want to know `Are you OK?' My friends, my students, my colleagues, they've all been very very supportive."

Aziz, who is 66 (no "maybe" about it), a brown-eyed man with thinning gray hair and a small mustache and trim beard, was born in India, but moved to Pakistan when he was about 11. He has never been to Afghanistan. He considers himself a preacher as well as a teacher.

When asked about President Bush's declaration of "war" against the terrorists who took down the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and a part of the Pentagon, he says he might have preferred "a difference in the wording used."

He adds: "But otherwise I don't have any problem. If somebody attacks you, you would defend yourself. But whether it is `war' is an entirely different thing. Because war is a certain word we have used in the past, between nations, and here we have to defend ourselves from the different people who are spread all over the world. And we do not know as a matter of fact which particular group has perpetrated this crime."

Although he feels very much at ease now, he acknowledges some concerns when the Sept. 11 terrorist attack occurred.

"I was apprehensive because of the recent past," he said. "There had been talk that there are some groups which belong to the Islamic Community, and those groups, particularly those led by Osama bin Laden had been sort of trying to hurt the interests of the United States.

"So I was apprehensive that whoever it was--and even now nobody knows who did it, but still we have got suspicion. But I was apprehensive that something like this could be blamed on Muslims, because that's what happened when the federal building in Oklahoma was bombed." The earlier Trade Center bombing also raised those apprehensions.

"But then," he smilingly observes, "people in Arcata are a very benign type of people."

Aziz, aside from handling his professorial chores, keeps busy preaching and writing.

"I write letters to the editor," he says. "I try to explain Islam. I write things which Muslims are not doing, but are being blamed for. And everybody knows, at least in my workplace, that here is a person who preaches Islam. I just go and talk to people, and tell them about Islam."

And although he has never been in Afghanistan, he lived very close to it in Pakistan.

"I know the people in Pakistan," he said, "and they have almost the same tribes living in Afghanistan. I know their habits, I know their religion, I know what they taught me. And also because there is a very good religious influence of the Afghan people on Pakistan. Even before Taliban.

"I am one of the Muslims who have almost, the same beliefs as the Iran people have," he continues. "But there are differences. For example, I do believe in Jihad and they believe in Jihad, but I believe in Jihad with the holy Koran. I read Koran, I preach Koran, I live by Koran, and I tell people what Koran is.

"And I also believe in Jihad with the gun," he adds, "but only if there is a certain individual trying to kill you, trying to take over your property, trying to throw you out of your home, or of not permitting you to practice Islam. So there are differences in the interpretation. But the Koran has not changed."

Aziz and his wife have a son and daughter who live in McKinleyville, two sons living in Seattle and one son in San Francisco.

Then we get to the nitty-gritty.

"My major concern today is that if the whole thing blows up, and we get into some situation of armed conflict, it may create many problems for Pakistan," he tells me. "Because in Pakistan there are many religious parties deeply interested in having good relations with the Afghan people, some with the Afghan Taliban. There are not many members, but they're well-armed, because after the Afghan Russian fiasco, a lot of bombs were going to the people in the border area. Now if this thing starts and Pakistan participates, as naturally they would, it could create a lot of difficulties for the country. There could be a civil war."

I wonder what his concern, as a professor of finance, is about the U.S. economy. It is, to me anyway, surprisingly optimistic.

"Well," he responds, "our economy will have a jolt, but it will be a short one. Our economy is too large to be affected by such (terrorist) incidents. Of course there is the airline problem and the insurance company problem, but these problems will be solved in five-six months' time. I think in six months, things will be back to normal."

What he is not quite as optimistic about is the perceived threat to America's constitutional rights.

"That is a concern." he says, "because there may be some kind of profiling that could upset people coming from Asian or Arab countries. But if you want to be safe, you have to give up something. I could live with some reduction, but I would prefer that we are not hurting our civil rights. That is everybody's concern. It affects the whole community. If possible we should try to effectively implement the existing law, and not go any further."

Of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he says, "No country can afford to remain silent after what they did. It was a very unwise thing that they did. Killing one person, according to Islam, is like killing the whole community."

And what about those hijackers who commandeered these big airliners and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Is committing suicide considered an act of valor in the Islamic view?

"It is prohibited," he answers quickly. And with an abrupt laugh he adds: "Anybody who commits suicide, goes to hell."

Getting back to Abdullah in his store, I wonder how he feels about the impending war on terrorism.

"I hope the war doesn't start," he replies. "If Osama is behind this ... The Russians destroyed the country for 16 years, then our own people destroyed the country for four years, and still the war goes on between our own people."

He thinks of the "people who orchestrated this plan" of terrorism on the United States, and says, "It is really bad, it is sad. The innocent people, they are lost, their loved ones are lost, and now Afghanistan has to pay a price. The innocent people in Afghanistan. If the United States bombs, the bomb doesn't see `this is an innocent person, this is not. It is a shame for humanity."

The above report by George Ringwald is a follow-up to the
June 1996 cover story, "Muslims in Our Midst."

The original article, by the late Wally Graves, is available at the link above.





Strike imminent at Safeway

With time running out and no resolution in sight, workers at Humboldt County's six Safeway stores seem likely to strike soon.

"We're close to a strike," confirmed Ed Janus, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 101 in Eureka.

The biggest point of contention: Compensation. Negotiations over wages and benefits for store employees have stalled after two months. The proposed contract includes slight raises but decreases in health insurance coverage.

David Bowlby, director of public affairs for Northern California Safeway stores, said in a phone interview from Pleasanton, the company's employees make double what their non-union counterparts do and have unrealistic expectations about wage increases.

"Our employees are already the highest-paid retail employees in Northern California," he said.

Also at issue is a plan to allow prepackaged meats into the stores. That, said Janus, "eliminates the butcher department and opens the doors for prepackaged meats with a shelf life of 45 days."

The contract offer is up for a vote Friday, but both sides acknowledge it is unlikely to be approved. A hiring drive for replacement workers is underway.

What will it mean to shoppers? Bowlby said Safeway customers "will still be able to do their shopping," but the union disagrees.

"The strike would shut them down," Janus said. The loss of staff would be too great, he said. At the very least, shoppers will have to face a distraction: Janus promised picket lines in both the front and back of stores.

New CEO for Pacific Lumber

After 30 years with Pacific Lumber Co., including 15 years as president and chief executive officer, John Campbell is being kicked upstairs. Campbell is being promoted to chairman of the board and will manage the company's external relations.

Robert E. Manne has been named as Campbell's replacement. He will be responsible for the oversight of all Pacific Lumber's operations. Manne served as executive vice president of Plum Creek Timber Co., a subsidiary of Burlington Resources Inc.

Campbell said is a press release Tuesday that Manne's experience in the forest products, manufacturing and technology industries make him idea for leading PL.

"[Manne] initiated Plum Creek's landmark Habitat Conservation Plan and was instrumental in establishing Plum Creek as a leader in environmental forestry."

KHSU cuts Pacifica News

Contract difficulties have pushed KHSU, Humboldt State University's public radio station, to terminate a landmark radio show -- but a locally produced replacement is on the way.

After 13 years, Pacifica Network News was dropped from the KHSU lineup Oct. 1. Founded in Berkeley, Pacifica has long been the most prominent national producer of progressive radio news coverage, but internal fighting has brought the network down, according to KHSU Station Manager Terry Green.

"The quality and reliability of Pacifica-produced programs is no longer consistent," Green said.

The final straw was the network's inability to offer a reasonable contract for further service, said Charles Horn, KHSU's development director. "They offered us a three-year affiliate contract, but it leaves them complete control over rate increases. Nobody in their right mind would do that."

As the door closes on Pacifica, a window has opened for Arcatan Mark Sommer. His new show, "The Heart of the Matter," is going to take up one of the open time slots.

Sommer, who came to Southern Humboldt in the 1970s, had his first experiences in radio as a guest expert. He was an independent researcher for the antinuclear movement.

"I found that radio was not as ideologically rigid as one would have you believe. If you were articulate, you got respect."

Six years ago Sommer started the Mainstream Media Project with the concept of assembling groups of expert sources on specific issues. He then offers those groups to radio stations and news organizations across the country.

His idea took root. Working out of an office in Arcata, Sommer and the 15-member staff has brokered news sources for CNN, the Associated Press and National Public Radio.

This year Mainstream Media decided to go one step further: producing its own radio show. "The Heart of the Matter," a weekly public affairs show covering the Pacific Rim, is going to be produced at the company's newly completed studio.

"It's both a political show and a metapolitical show. It addresses political issues, but not narrowly," he said.

Initially, the show will be distributed regionally but, Sommer said, "Our plan is to go national in the next year."

Pulp mill certified chlorine-free

SAMOA PACIFIC Cellulose was formally certified as totally chlorine free (TCF) by the Chlorine Free Products Association in ceremonies held at the Samoa pulp mill. It is the only mill in North America to manufacture with a chlorine-free process and now the only one so certified.

Countries in western Europe have been moving to the more environmentally friendly and safer chlorine-free processing for years, but American manufacturers of pulp have resisted, citing the challenges of achieving a certain brightness for paper manufacturing clients.

"While TCF had been an operating standard at this facility for some time, the distinction is that we are now making bleached pulp at 88-90 brightness and are doing so cost competitively with chlorine-based competitors," said Ernest Harvey, president of Samoa Operations, to a crowd of business and community leaders Thursday.

Archie Beaton, executive director of the Chicago-based Chlorine Free Products Association, who headed up the team that reviewed and certified the facility, said third-party audits are critical to "international accountability" and Samoa Pacific is now a leader in environmental compliance.

"Samoa Pacific Cellulose continues to raise the bar in setting standards for environmental performance. Everybody else in their industry must now catch up," Beaton said.

The Samoa facility was acquired from Louisiana-Pacific Corp. by LaPointe Partners of Wisconsin in February. Since then the new owners have made nearly $4 million in improvements including development and installation of a pressurized hydrogen peroxide/oxygen bleaching system.

In 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup of pollution problems at two pulp mills on the peninsula. Simpson Paper Co., citing a continuing weak market for pulp worldwide, closed its mill as a result.

L-P began modernization by installing a $56 million recovery boiler in 1990. In 1994 transition began to chlorine-free with the installation of a $4.4 million steam stripper; a $6.6 million filtration system was added in 1997. The ocean discharge pipe for fresh water leaving the mill was lengthened and the outfall submerged.

The high quality pulp produced at the mill goes into a wide range of products from coffee filters to stereo speaker cones. Some pulp is being mixed with cement to create cement board and used to replace asbestos siding.

The mill employs 170 workers.

Case back to court

The legal battle surrounding the use of pepper spray by officers of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department and Eureka Police Department in 1997 has been shuttled back to San Francisco by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ordered the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to reconsider its decision to reinstate a lawsuit filed by protesters who were swabbed with liquid pepper spray during an anti-logging protest.

The appeals court had previously overruled a federal judge's decision that the amount of force used by sheriff's deputies was reasonable.

Humboldters called

A Eureka-based unit of the National Guard has been called to duty in the war against terrorism.

About 30 members of Detachment 1 of the 870th Military Police Co. were activated Oct. 1. They left for San Francisco the following day. It is unclear what they will be doing, where they will be doing it or how long their service will last.

Get the mercury out

The leading cause of mercury in the environment may be hiding in your medicine cabinet: mercury thermometers.

Old fever thermometers using mercury are effective but easy to break -- and each contains up to 1!/2 grams of mercury, more than enough to contaminate all the fish in a 20-acre lake.

The Humboldt County Public Health Department will hold a thermometer exchange Oct. 5 and 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hazardous Waste Facility on South Broadway. Anyone bringing in an old-fashioned mercury fever thermometer will receive a new digital mercury-free replacement.

School exit exams

Results released last week show that 61 percent of Humboldt County's high school sophomores passed the new high school exit exam on their first try last spring. That figure compares favorably to the state's overall average of 45 percent.

The 39 percent who did not pass will have three more tries at the end of each coming year.

Even with three tries, "we do see there are some students who will have a difficult time about this," said Janet Frost, spokesperson for the Humboldt County Office of Education.

Frost pointed to the county's educational diversity. Some schools consistently perform above average while others have had trouble improving, which raises concerns for administrators.

"This test very well could increase the dropout rate" as discouraged students leave school, Frost said. On the other hand, "It could help schools identify students they might not have otherwise identified," as in need of extra help.

Eel River lays off 100

Citing poor market conditions, Eel River Sawmills has given notice to approximately 100 employees that as of the end of November they will be indefinitely laid off.

They join more than 200 employees already laid off by the Fortuna-based lumber company earlier this year.

Eel River has been trying to sell its assets since early this year and has had two suitors -- Englewood Forest Products and Pacific Lumber Co. The sale was halted by lawsuits filed by Eureka attorney William Bertain. Both allege financial improprieties by Eel River's management, and both have included attempts to place liens on Eel River's property.

While the requests for liens were refused, they brought the status of Eel River's assets into question long enough to prevent the sale.

The layoffs have raised the prospect that Eel River may cease operations soon. According to a report in the Times-Standard, the company is $45 million in debt.

ADA workshop slated

Businesses worried about adequate disability access will soon get the chance to educate themselves on steps toward compliance in a workshop presented by the Eureka Chamber of Commerce.

Many businesses in Humboldt County have been sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The strict rules concerning access are designed to encourage businesses to build ramps, widen doorways and designate parking spots. But they have also cost the business community a lot of money (See Access and Dollars, March 8).

The workshop will be held Oct. 12 at the Adorni Center in Eureka. For more information or to make a reservation, call 442-3738.


An article in the Sept. 20 edition of In the News ("DNA opens leads in Bari case") contained an error. The death threat sent to the late Judi Bari had been mailed by a man and the letter claiming responsibility was sent by a woman, according to new DNA saliva tests.




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