Washington – These days it seems it’s a crime to be or look Muslim and Middle Eastern in America. The climate in America is one of fear, anger, distrust, and suspicion. As America unites within and gets ready to combat terrorism on all fronts, the wave of violence continues to mount against Americans of Arab and Muslim background. Racism, bigotry, and discrimination are at an all time high.
“I am afraid for my life, as well as those who are easier targets than me. I am not so easily identifiable by the ignorant masses that seek to harm since I do not wear hijab or carry a beard. I do not fit the stereotype of the ‘Arab’ by American standards. They realize only when I call them out on their ignorance,” said Ibrahim, an Iraqi-American schoolteacher from California.
For Arab Americans and Muslims, Tuesday’s tragedy and the backlash that followed have been almost equally devastating. The victims of the attacks at the World Trade Center include Americans of a wide range of ethnicities and religions. Like the rest of the nation, Arab Americans and Muslims were victims of the attacks too. And of the over 6,000 missing or presumed dead in New York, 500-1000 are said to be Arab and Muslim, according to reports. Despite this, Arab Americans and Muslims have been made to be victims twice.
Since Black Tuesday, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has received more than 500 reports of hate incidents against American Muslims, which include three deaths. The high number of incidents is more than the group typically receives in a year. A 45-year-old Yemeni man became the third victim on Wednesday. The man was shot in the back as he tried to run from his killer. Before he was brutally murdered, the man begged for his life and explained he played no part in the attacks in New York and Washington, according to reports by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
“I have not been, nor has anyone I know been the victim of a hate crime, yet. But, I have been told by an 11-year-old student of mine that I “shouldn’t wear that pin” on my shirt that is pro-Palestine. I doubt she would have said that before because I wear it everyday and she has seen me before this incident,” said Ibrahim.
All across America, Muslims and Arabs have been the victims of discrimination and hate by those who see no distinction between the perpetrators of the attacks and all Arabs and Muslims. They have endured harassments, discrimination, threats, hate mail, ethnic slurs, vandalism, and shootings. Since the attacks began, law enforcement has patrolled Arab and Muslim communities and mosques to protect against the wave of violence and harassment. Many Americans have been appalled at the victimization of Arab Americans and Muslims by fellow Americans and continue to offer their support. President Bush and government officials have condemned the backlash against the Arab American and Muslim community.
“I’m angry at how civil rights somehow does not seem to apply to Arab Americans and Muslims. Even well meaning speeches by US political figures are still not getting it right. Americans don’t need to be “tolerant” of us. We ARE Americans so they need to simply uphold our basic civil rights as they would for any other ethnic or religious group in the US,” said Iman, a Palestinian-American from Pennsylvania.
Racial and religious profiling has been a recurring problem for Arab and Muslim travelers, and far more so since Tuesday’s tragedy. This week alone, there were reports of at least five incidents where men of Arab and Muslim descent were taken off US domestic flights because passengers and crew felt they were a threat to security. Three Arab-Americans were escorted off a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis on route to Utah because passengers refused to fly unless they were removed from the plane. The men later flew home on a Delta flight.
“This is racial and religious profiling of the worst kind. Both the passengers and the airplane personnel should be ashamed of their actions,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.
A recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of Americans favored requiring Arabs and Arab Americans to carry a special ID. Fifty-eight percent of respondents supported requiring Arabs and Arab Americans to undergo stricter security checks at US airports.
Like many Americans, Arabs and Muslims have gone out to purchase an American flag, the symbol of freedom and unity. Flags have been placed on everything from homes and businesses to taxicabs. The flags not only show support but also serve to provide protection against harassment and discrimination. “I don’t feel like I am regarded as an American right now. I feel hurt and angry. My family has been here for three generations as good hard-working tax-paying citizens,” said Iman. “What does it require to be a “real” American then?”