Amid anger over beheading, minister pleads for tolerance

Monday, June 21, 2004

EAGLESWOOD TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Backlash over the beheading of a U.S. contractor in Saudi Arabia was as clear as a sign in the town where he was born.

"Stamp out Islam," read a cardboard sign that also depicted a hand-drawn boot over a crescent and star. Phil Galasso posted it on a utility pole near his house in Eagleswood Township.

"I'm getting a little fed up with the mindless violence against civilians who had nothing to do with the war in the Middle East," Galasso said Sunday. He called Islam a "vile, bigoted faith" that subjugates women and uses force to spread its message.

Authorities had not received any reports of violence against the area's small Muslim population since Paul M. Johnson Jr. was killed by Muslim extremists Friday, but anger in the community was evident, not over just the terrorists but also their religion.

"Last night I wasn't a racist but today I feel racism towards Islamic beliefs," read a white laminated sign hung on the mailbox of the house next to that of Johnson's sister, Donna Mayeux, minutes south of Eagleswood Township in Little Egg Harbor Township.

"Last night Islamics had a chance to speak up for Paul Johnson but today it's too late," the sign read. "Islamics better wake up and start thinking about tomorrow."

The owner of the house where the sign was hung, Danny Pomponio, took it down Sunday morning and said he didn't know who had put it up. He added that he didn't know anyone in town who felt that way.

Arabs speak outAbout 100 miles north of Eagleswood Township in Paterson, 25 people gathered Saturday at a rally where Arabs and Muslims condemned Johnson's killing. Aref Assaf, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, urged Americans not to "castigate the entire community for the acts of a few."

Joe Giberson, a police detective in nearby Stafford Township, said he was dismayed when he saw news reports of the sign in Little Egg Harbor.

"I hope it's not the feelings of the people. We can't be the same way like what happened to Mr. Johnson," Giberson said.

A minister at the church where Mayeux worships was among those urging tolerance Sunday.

Pastor Gene Huber noted Johnson's family's grief and struggle in the face of cruelty, but said turning to faith would "enable them to become champions of grace in a world of wickedness."

Mayeux did not attend the service at the nondenominational Greentree Ministries Church, about 30 minutes south of her home. The family has remained in seclusion since Johnson was kidnapped just over a week ago.

Senior Pastor Kyle Huber, Gene Huber's son, who has assisted the family throughout the ordeal, said they are "doing well in what is something no one can be prepared for."

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