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Some Arab-Americans Afraid to Go to Work - 2001-09-17

In the days since the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Arab-Americans in many communities have been the target of harassment and violence. Some Arab-Americans say they are afraid to go to work.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Muslim leader is urging President Bush to use caution as he plans America's retaliation against those responsible for the attacks.

In Chicago, the local Taxi Drivers Association estimates as many as a third of the city's cab drivers are staying home from work. It says many of those are Arab-Americans who fear becoming targets of taunts or violence especially after dark.

In one Chicago suburb, pro-American rallies held on several recent evenings have degenerated into chants and shouts of anti-Arab epithets, and had to be broken up by police. Several businesses owned by Muslims in the Chicago area have had windows broken by rocks or gunfire.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it is looking into at least 40 reported hate crimes against Arab-Americans nationwide in the last week.

On Monday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said such acts would not be tolerated. "We are all saddened by the recent acts of terrorism against our nation," he said. "Such acts of retaliation violate federal law and more particularly run counter to the very principles of equality and freedom, upon which our nation is founded."

Hate crimes believed connected to the terrorist attacks include the shooting death of an Indian immigrant in the state of Arizona. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death Sunday at the gas station in suburban Phoenix where he worked. A man who also fired at other minorities early Sunday has been arrested. A local prosecutor says Mr. Sodhi was apparently killed for no other reason than that he was dark-skinned and wore a turban.

In Chicago Sunday, the leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan condemned the terrorist attacks as acts carried out by wild beasts. He said a strong response is warranted, but urged President Bush to be cautious in choosing what that response will be. "We caution the most powerful nation on this earth," he said, "that has the power to inflict pain on any nation beyond imagination that counsel from the highest spiritual sources must be sought by President Bush and the administration before they undertake this war."

Minister Farrakhan also condemned the backlash against Arab-Americans since the attacks. He recounted how many Americans immediately - and incorrectly - blamed Muslims for the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. He asked the overflow crowd at his Chicago mosque to pray for the innocent Muslims who could die in retaliation attacks. He also said U.S. foreign policy has helped foster overseas hatred of the United States, and that foreign policy changes should be part of any response to last week's attacks.