Arab-American community 'being mistreated'

NEW YORK (BNW) -- By Friday, many of the city's schools, offices and businesses had reopened. But Rabyaah Al-Thaibani says her family isn't opening its grocery store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn for now.

Rabyaah says her uncle was threatened with violence by one of his suppliers on Thursday. The supplier was angered by Tuesday's terrorist strikes, suspected to have been carried out by people of Arabic origin.

"He said he would kill my uncle and the whole family if we didn't watch out," Rabyaah says. "We are all pretty terrified to walk out right now."

Hussein Ibish, communications director for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, says the Arab-American community "is keeping its head down for the moment."
"People from the community just don't want to be conspicuous right now."

Being inconspicuous for most members of the community means staying home, not going to work, not even going out to shop.

But Rabyaah does come out, to volunteer at the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, where she works as a counselor.

Since Tuesday, the support center has received hundreds of calls from Arab-Americans who have been threatened by people who blame the community for the attacks. The center also has documented reports of physical assault in the Atlantic Avenue area, which has a large population of Americans from Yemen, Lebanon and other Arab nations.

Brooklyn police say they have made a note of several complaints and are doing their best to keep Arab-Americans safe.

Ibish says he has lost count of the number of death threats and other hate messages he has received personally since Tuesday. Local police now guard his office and walk him to and from work every day.

Ibish says that is heartening -- and he also is grateful to policemen in Illinois, who stopped an angry mob from attacking a mosque in Bridgefield, Illinois, on Wednesday night.

It's a problem that prompted President Bush to make a strong statement during a conference call with New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab-Americans who live in New York City," he said, "who love their flag just as much as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve."

It's a message that 17-year-old Roula Abu Hassan says her teacher at school missed today. She says her health teacher told her class at a high school in Brooklyn that "Palestinian children all want to become terrorists."

Both Roula and her mother Saud Abu Hassan, who moved to the United States from the Palestinian territories, are visibly upset by the statement and want the teacher to apologize.

And as the U.S. Justice Department releases the name of 19 suspected hijackers, all of whom are Muslims with Middle Eastern backgrounds, members of the community say they worry that attacks against anyone bearing similar names may now increase.

Arab-Americans Fear Backlash

A day after suspected terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Arab-American, Muslim and Sikh leaders reported sporadic vandalism and assaults against their communities.

Mosque windows were shattered in Texas, a New York man was arrested for an alleged anti-Arab threat, and a prison fight broke out over Muslim slurs in Washington state.

``I'm urging people not to play into the hands of the terrorists, not to act like them,'' said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C.
The prime suspect for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, authorities said, was Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi fugitive who authorities have blamed for several past terrorist attacks.

In Suffolk County, N.Y., authorities arrested a man who allegedly made an anti-Arab threat and pointed a handgun at a gas station employee.

In Texas, at least six bullets shattered windows at the Islamic Center of Irving. A window at the Islamic Center of Carrollton also was broken by a slingshot-type device, police said.

Authorities there and in several other jurisdictions said they were unsure whether the threats were related to the terrorist attacks.

In Asbury, N.J., Ramandeep Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban for religious reasons, said he had garbage and stones thrown at his car and stayed home from work.

In a Washington state prison, a fight broke out during television reports of the attacks. A sheriff's spokesman said that one inmate loudly criticized Muslims and then a Muslim inmate threw him to the floor, causing cranial hemorrhaging.

At the Kuwait Embassy in Washington, Tamara Alfson spent Wednesday counseling frightened Kuwaiti students attending schools across the United States. One student was told, `You should all die,' Alfson said. Another was moved to avoid a harassing bus ride to class.

Hate messages and insults were left on the answering machine of the Manassas Mosque in Virginia, said director Abu Nahidian.

American Airlines chief executive Don Carty echoed community leaders in urging Americans not to scapegoat entire ethnic and religious communities because of ``our collective grief, anger and shock.''

In a recorded hot line message to airline workers, he said: ``We simply cannot do that. Muslims and Arabs are our co-workers and our customers — and they grieve over this tragedy as well.''

Man questioned in shooting death of Sikh

A man was being questioned by police Sunday in connection with the shooting death of a gas station owner, an Indian immigrant who was a Sikh.

The man has not been arrested or charged. Authorities are also investigating two other shootings that took place Saturday afternoon, involving a man that fits the same description.

The victim has been identified as Balbir Singh Sodhi. Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, the spiritual leader of a Sikh temple in Phoenix where Sodhi was a member, said Sodhi was 52.

Kirtan Singh, a minister of a Sikh temple in Los Angeles, said Sodhi had received a verbal threat earlier in the week, from a man who walked into Sodhi's store. Sodhi reported the threat to the police.

Mesa Police Sgt. Mike Goulet said that on Saturday afternoon, a white male in a pickup truck described as a Chevrolet S-10 drove into a Chevron gas station parking lot and fired several shots with a handgun from the truck. Goulet said it appears the man was by himself.

Sodhi, whom members of the Sikh community said was the owner of the gas station, was struck by at least one bullet and pronounced dead at the scene. The driver sped away.

Police said several shots were fired 20 minutes after the fatal shooting, from a similar vehicle at a Mobil station in the city. No one was hit and the driver fled. Owners of this second gas station are Arabic.

Police said shots were fired 10 minutes later from a similar truck at a third location. Nobody was hurt.

Goulet said one of their units spotted a black S-10 late Saturday night. A police patrol unit and a SWAT team was sent to a residence, which they found from a license plate number. Police confronted a man who was taken into custody. He offered no resistance.

A motive for the shootings has not been determined and police said they can't say whether the attacks were racially motivated.

A Sikh acquaintance of the victim said he thought the incident was a "hate crime."

"We're mostly distraught. We happen to practice a religion that makes us look like the bad guy," said Hari Simran Singh Khalsa. "As Americans, we're shocked."

Sodhi, who is survived by his wife and three adult children, was planning to return to India to live with a son, Khalsa said. The Sikhs are a religious group based in Punjab, in northern India.

Persons of Arabic and South Asian descent, including Sikhs, have been subjected to harassment in the United States since Tuesday's terror attacks in New York and Washington, which have been linked to Islamic radicals.

Sikhs are not Muslims, but Sikh men wear turbans and because of their appearance have been mistaken for Muslims. Suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, an Islamic militant based in Afghanistan, is suspected of masterminding the terror attacks.

Khalsa said Sikh men keep their beards and most wear turbans -- "we look more like bin Laden than the Muslims do."

"We've had people that work in convenience stores and gas stations and have been unable to work this week because of overt harassment," he said.

"The victim was targeted because of his religious dress. He had a turban and beard," Guru Roop Kaur said. "Our message is a peaceful message. That's who this person was. He was a very peaceful person."

City leaders appealed for calm.

"Senseless acts of violence will do nothing to help our nation heal or bring peace to the victims of the horrific tragedy that occurred this week," said Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker.

"Now is the time for all Mesa resident to display solidarity by taking a clear stand against violence," he said. "We are all Americans. We are all grieving. Let us unite in peace and determination that violence will never be the answer."


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