Walk along Church Avenue 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, 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, cell phone stores offer easy ways to wire money back to Bangladesh and old men glare at interlopers, especially if they are infidel women.
This is where Mohammed Siddiquee settled a dispute the old-fashioned way by beheading his landlord.
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, though over in neighboring 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.
Here in Kensington, where the alphabet streets that march across Brooklyn down to the ocean begin, the bars retreat along with the alphabet from those areas marked by the crescent 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 aren’t no-go zones yet. There aren’t enough young men with too much welfare and 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. That generation will grow up being neither one thing nor the other, ricocheting from American pop culture to the Koran, from parties with the infidels to mosque study sessions until they explode from 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. It isn’t the young women laughing with their friends outside a pizza parlor, knowing that in a year or two they will have to go back home for an arranged marriage. It is the young men 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.
For now the Bangladeshi settlements in Brooklyn are quiet places where the tenements and shops close off the streets into small private worlds with their own justice systems, feuds and secrets.
“I feel like I’m living in my own country,” the editor of one of the Bangladeshi newspapers in New York, said. “You don’t have to learn English to live here. That’s a great thing!”
Overhead may be the same sky, but Little Bangladesh has been cut off from Brooklyn and attached to a country 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 his landlord Mahmud, he rushed to JFK to catch a flight. It was natural for him to think that having settled matters in the traditional fashion; he could fly away 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 empty air between the rungs of a ladder that their foot passes through without noticing. 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.
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