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Muslims' anger about Trump's proposal is tinged with fear

After 9/11, Mohammad Salahat's eighth-grade classmates mocked him for being Muslim. Last month, after the attacks in Paris, a college classmate called him a terrorist.

And Saturday, as he walked through an office supply store in Temecula, he said he could not help but feel some people were staring at him.

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"Yes, I'm a Muslim," said Salahat, now a 28-year-old student at Cal State San Bernardino. "Yes, my name is Mohammad. But not all Muslims are bad."

Since last week's massacre, which left 14 people dead and 21 wounded, President Obama has urged Americans not to demonize Muslims. But on Monday Donald Trump called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump's proposal troubles Salahat, who fears it will only further inflame tensions.

"I'm hoping to God that Donald Trump does not get elected," Salahat said.

Trump's plan met with widespread criticism, even among his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. But among Muslims in the U.S., the anger was tinged with fear.

"There is no place for a person who wants to advance his political agenda over the very values that this country was founded on: freedom, democracy, equality,"Oussama Jammal, the secretary general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, said during a televised news conference.

Federal officials are investigating the motive behind the last week's shooting during a Christmas party for San Bernardino County employees. Investigators are studying shooter Tashfeen Malik's devotion to a fundamentalist strain of Islam and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook's apparent fixation on Israel.

A ban on Muslims is "playing on people's fears," said Rodina Bizri-Baryak, a 33-year-old healthcare consultant from Cleveland who works in San Bernardino every other week. "The terrorists have already succeeded."

Bizri-Baryak was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States with her parents and brother in 1992 in the wake of the Lebanese civil war. Arab Americans such as her face a dual threat.

"We feel equally vulnerable to being victims of terrorism and also the hate mongering on the other side," she said. "I think people forget we are Americans."

Before the San Bernardino attacks, Trump had suggested that the nation track Muslims in some way, including possibly requiring them to register in a national database.

"Who would like to be tracked like some kind of criminal?" said Ranea Al-Tikriti, a 24-year-old nutrition student and president of the Muslim Student Assn. at Cal State San Bernardino. "Nobody would like that."

Grouping all Muslims together, she said, is a sign that the United States is "regressing instead of progressing."

Mohammed Zafarullah, imam at the Bait ul Hameed Mosque in Chino, said he would support tracking Muslims with radical tendencies — but not indiscriminately keeping tabs on the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in the United States peacefully.

"I don't want our peace to be vandalized or to be taken away," Zafarullah said. "We want peace."

Elsewhere in the San Bernardino area, Trump's proposal met with less resistance from those who said much stronger action is needed to prevent more terrorism in the U.S.

Gregory W. Brittain, an attorney whose office is about two blocks from the shooters' apartment in Redlands, said he generally supports Trump for president, along with Ted Cruz.

The San Bernardino mass shooting showed the ease with which Muslims can become radicalized and that the threat of Islamic terrorism is real, Brittain said.

Brittain said he was uncomfortable with the notion of a religious test for would-be immigrants, and he said that he would rather the U.S. halt all immigration from countries "where there's a terrorist or jihadist problem."

Still, his disagreement with Trump over the proposal did not diminish his support for the candidate. Monday's announcement was "an idea, a proposal — it's not a piece of legislation."

John Galletta, a firearms instructor at Riverside Magnum Range, said he supports Trump's presidential bid but wouldn't comment on whether he backs the proposal to ban Muslims from the U.S.

"But I understand his concern," Galletta said. "The war we had was with Muslim factions. It's hard to erase people's fear."

Times staff writers Sarah Parvini, Matt Stevens, Matt Hamilton, Christine Mai-Duc and Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.

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