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September 29, 2010

Local Muslim cemetery draws national attention

By Patricia Breakey
Delaware County News Bureau

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A story published in the Sept. 14 edition of The Daily Star about the Sidney Town Board's decision to begin legal proceedings against the Muslim Osmanli Naksibendi Hakkani Sufi Order on Wheat Hill Road in Sidney Center over a cemetery it has established on its land has garnered national attention.

Stories about Sidney Supervisor Bob McCarthy's opposition to the cemetery appeared in The Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Olbermann called McCarthy an Islamophobic and labeled him "The Worst Man in America." T-shirts bearing a quote from Olbermann's show that say, "I went to Sidney-freaking-New York to find the Muslim zombies and all I got was this T-shirt."

Hans Hass of the Muslim community said the cemetery is legal, the Sidney code enforcement officer approved it in 2005 and two bodies have been buried in it. The deceased were 28 and 30 years old. One was the victim of an automobile accident and the other died of stomach cancer.

According to the minutes of the Sidney Town Board Aug. 12 meeting, the board voted unanimously to pass "an injunction prohibiting the burying of bodies on private property."

McCarthy said previously that the town board "will be seeking to have these bodies disinterred and stop future burials. Unauthorized cemeteries have the potential of placing a financial burden on the local government as well as dictating the use of the land for perpetuity."

McCarthy continued to defend his position Tuesday, writing in an e-mail, "We contend that these people have buried bodies illegally and have referred this to the town attorney Joe Ermeti. As far as I know no documents have been served or filed at this point.

"Towns have to take over abandoned cemeteries and have to care for them forever. These costs not only fall on the back of the property taxpayer, the land is forever lost for any other use.

"You can't bury Grandma under the picnic table in the backyard in most places in this country and you can't do it here either," McCarthy continued. "I was asked why this has only come up with the Muslim Community and the answer was that they were the only ones that tried to do this."

Hass said none of the members of the Muslim community want to be "the poster child for racist, bigoted, redneck America," and McCarthy is "giving a bad name to the whole area."

Hass said members of the Muslim community intend to attend the next Sidney Town Board meeting and ask the board to admit they made a mistake and drop the whole thing.

"We just want to let this all go away and settle this as amicably as we can," Hass said.

Sidney Mayor James Warren said Tuesday that he wanted to make sure that people didn't confuse the town government with the village government.

"We have nothing to do with any of this," Warren said.

McCarthy said last week before the Delaware County Board meeting that someone called and pretended to be from The Huffington Post, but he thought the person was really a member of the Muslim community.

Andrew Reinbach, who wrote the Huffington Post piece, said Tuesday that McCarthy was aware that he was talking to a journalist during two conversations.

"I identified myself clearly and he spoke about the Sufis as "they," clearly implying he hadn't confused me with anybody," Reinbach said.

Ermeti did not return a call Tuesday.

Patricia Breakey can be reached at 865-5175 or at