American vs. American

National | American Muslims and those of Asian or Arab descent targeted for abuse in the wake of terrorist attack

Issue: "Mourning has broken," Sept. 29, 2001

Members of the Salam Arabic Church in Brooklyn bear a triple burden these days, says Khader N. El-Yateem. Many fled their homes in the Middle East to escape religious persecution, he said. Some are ministering to friends in the Arab American community who lost relatives in the World Trade Center. And now some in Pastor El-Yateem's Lutheran congregation are being harassed, threatened, and terrorized, apparently as part of a hateful backlash by home-grown Americans against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, especially Muslims. Unknown assailants threw eggs at one family's home, the pastor said. Vandals broke into another family's grocery store, sprayed it with hate graffiti, and spread human excrement among food items. Police are guarding the church around the clock, he added. Meanwhile, Pastor El-Yateem and his members-like those of many churches in the New York area-are helping in the recovery effort by providing food and other supplies to firefighters, police, and other workers, and by offering comfort and counsel. He told of going with other pastors to the side of a Lebanese Christian couple mourning the loss of their 23-year-old son at the WTC. They had fled the violence in their homeland years ago mainly to give their son a better life. The lists of WTC missing include others with Arab American surnames. However, good works were far from the minds of some bent on revenge and mayhem. Police and religious officials reported hundreds of alleged hate backlash attacks ranging from murder (a turban-wearing Sikh immigrant from India shot to death at his gas station in Mesa, Ariz.; a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt gunned down at his store in San Gabriel, Calif.), assault (a machete attack against a Moroccan gas-station attendant in Palos Heights, Ill.; an attempt by a man to run over a Pakistani woman in a shopping-mall parking lot in Huntington, N.Y), and arson (the fire-bombing of an Islamic center in Denton, Texas; a mosque torched in Seattle) to terrorism (shots fired at mosques, bookstores, restaurants in several cities; bricks thrown through windows; telephoned threats), and harassment (a march on a mosque by 300 flag-waving and shouting demonstrators in Bridgeview, Ill.; numerous other reports of verbal abuse and graffiti). Jersey City, N.J., across the Hudson River from New York, is the longtime home of many Arab immigrants. Many stood in blood-donor lines following the WTC attack. Sayed Al-Zanie, who runs a pizzeria and Islamic food shop across the street from a mosque, said people ran inside his store and yelled, "You Arabs, go back!" "Go back where?" he asked. "This is my home. My kids were born here. We are Americans, too. This is our country, our house. We love this country as much as anybody else." President Bush and other government leaders across the country warned against "vigilantism" and vengeance against innocent Arab Americans and Muslims. Those who act in such anger "represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of their behavior," Mr. Bush said during a visit to the Washington Islamic Center. "That's not the America I know. That should not and that will not stand in America." In countless pulpits and community-wide services, clergy cautioned against making any religious or ethnic group the scapegoat. Frightened staff members at a mosque in Annandale, Va., hid behind drawn curtains as a reporter approached. They had put up a large hand-printed banner to face a busy street and an evangelical megachurch on the other side. It said:

"We condemn all evil acts, mourn the loss of life, and pray for America."

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman


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