Backlash and Counter-Backlash

Arabs and Muslims Fend Off a Tragedy’s Aftermath

"When my office was firebombed in 1980, I called the FBI," he recalled. "Forty-five minutes into the conversation, all the man wanted to know was who's who in the Arab community. It was unbelievable."

According to Zogby, recent immigrants from the Middle East feel uncomfortable calling the FBI to report bias against them.

"We've had a history of hate crimes," Zogby continued, "and no one's ever been indicted. I want to ask [the FBI] sometimes, why do you spend so much time violating our rights, and so little time protecting them?"

This time, the official response to the threat of bias attacks has been forceful and swift. A police officer watches the door downstairs from the AAFSC, greeting nervous social workers wearing the hijabas they emerge onto the street. A short distance away, officers are posted every couple of blocks down Arab Atlantic Avenue, and in other Arab neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

So the community, and everyone resembling them, endures the stares and much worse, and silently contemplates the massive military adventure to come.

"There should be a vigorous response, there is no doubt about it," said Hussein Ibish, who said he supports action against the guilty party. But the difficulty, he mused, will be in determining what action would be appropriate.

"We did lash out quickly the last time something like this happened, and we managed to deprive a large number of Sudanese suffering from meningitis of badly needed medicine," he said, referring to the Clinton administration's bombing of the al-Shifa Pharmaceutical plant in response to the bombing of the U.S. embassies in East Africa. "The Sudan action was ineffective and a mistake. If our response is patient, and directed at the guilty parties, we will support it strongly."

In the meantime, many Arab Americans and Muslims continue to shoulder myriad burdens. Ahmed Samhouri, a Palestinian American, works for Morgan Stanley, and escaped from his office on the 71st floor of World Trade Center Two after the second plane struck his building. "We all suffered that day," he said. "We were all victims." Members of his family were harassed this week. He is understandably depressed. "A lot of things don't feel right, right now. . . . Those people don't represent Muslims."

For Emira Habiby Browne, also Palestinian American, the load is especially heavy. Her daughter, a sophomore in college, tells her the school's large Arab population faces bias after last week's events. And Browne's son, a U.S. naval officer serving on a nuclear submarine, was called up for duty this week.

"I can't stand the thought that he'll have to fight," she said. "But if this goes further, who knows?"

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