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Arab Americans: We Are Not the Enemy - 2002-09-11


English Feature #7-35388 Broadcast October 8, 2001

Arab-American communities around the United States are concerned that in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11th, Muslims have become the target of people's anger and frustration. Today on New American Voices some residents of Dearborn, in the mid-western state of Michigan--home to the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States--share their reaction.

Prayer service in mosque

Arab-American citizens of Dearborn gather in the Islamic Center of America for prayer services for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks. The religious leader of the Center, one of the largest mosques in the country, is Imam Hassan Qazwini. Since the attack, he has been reaching out to the larger community, speaking at public meetings and ecumenical gatherings.

"Our major message was that we are American citizens. We Muslims and Arabs live in America. We love this country, we are as bothered as everybody else. We are as shocked as everybody else. We are as outraged as everybody else. What hurts other Americans hurts us."

The Imam is concerned that Muslims in America are being stereotyped as somehow connected to the extremists who committed the terrorist acts.

"And we sometimes have to struggle to prove our innocence as Muslims and Arabs living in America. And that's not fair at all."

The Islamic Center of America is surrounded by burning candles, placed on the lawn in memory of the victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. At a breakfast meeting preceding services at the Center, tiny red-white-and blue looped memorial ribbons are distributed. Most of the men, women, and even children pin them to their clothes.

A mullah offers a prayer. At the meeting, Imam Qazwini addresses the subject that is uppermost in the minds of many in the audience.

"That is the real test for us. What to do, how to react.Some people are reacting emotionally. We should not react emotionally. We have to say to those ignorant people who are pointing their fingers at us, that we are not your enemies. People will ask you, why this happened, why a Muslim. This is the answer: those people are not Muslim. They may call themselves Muslim, they may hide behind the name of Islam, but they are not Muslims. Tell me, where in the Koran does it say you can kill innocent people? Where in the Koran does it say you can shed one drop of blood unjustly?"

Abed Hammoud is an Arab American who is a candidate for mayor of Dearborn. One of the things that his candidacy achieved, he says, is that it showed the citizens of Dearborn that Arab-Americans care about their city and want to serve the public. However, he says recent events have undone some of these positive results.

"Somebody showed me yesterday an e-mail that says a good Arab is a dead Arab wrapped in a pigskin. This is not the America that I like, this is not the America I believe in. My kids were born in this country, all they have from their Arab heritage is their name and whatever I teach them. I don't want them to be treated different from any American kid that was born here."

Of course, not all Arab-Americans are Muslims. In fact, the Dearborn community has a sizeable population of Chaldeans - Christian Arabs whose roots go back to ancient Babylonia and Mesopotamia, but who immigrated from the modern countries of Iran and Iraq. David Halibu is a survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center. After escaping from the burning skyscraper he hurried to his parents' home in Dearborn, only to hear accusations that all Arabs are to blame for the terrorist attacks.

"That night we drove to Michigan. And in a rest-stop in Ohio there's a TV on. Someone makes a stupid comment, like "We should put them all in a box and send them back to where they came from". This is maybe twelve hours after I just survived the scariest thing in my life."

David Halibu's life changed drastically following the attacks. He now has no job, his friends have no jobs, one is in the hospital with serious burns. He does not know whether he will return to New York. But while his life was affected, he hopes that his children will not suffer the consequences of the attack on the building in which he worked.

"My parents are of Middle-Eastern descent, they're Chaldean-Christian-Americans, but we're Americans. They came to this country for the same reason that everybody else's parents came to this country, for a better future for their kids. And hopefully one day my kids won't have to grow up with the stigma of worrying about the fact that they have brown eyes and brown hair and a tanned skin, and people thinking they're terrorists all the time."

The Chaldean Christian Church of Dearborn also held memorial services for those who died in the September 11th attacks. David Halibu, a survivor, held a candle.

Singing in Chaldean Church

Tune in next week for another edition of New American Voices

Brian Padden of VOA TV provided the material for this feature.

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