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US Arabs Fear More Harassment

Arab-American groups in the United States say they are pleased that so many public officials have condemned recent harassment and violence against Arabs and Muslims in the United States. Hundreds of incidents have been reported since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington two weeks ago.

In the Chicago area, at least 15 people have been charged with harassment or worse against Arab-Americans. Most of the incidents involve verbal threats or broken windows, but according to Rouhy Shalabi of the Chicago-based Arab American Bar Association says there have been more serious occurrences. He tells this story: "A man went into a gas station and asked the person [attendant] where he was from. He said he was American and the man asked, "Where are you from?" He indicated he was from Morocco. Thereafter, the man pulled out a two-foot [60-cm] machete and threatened to assault him."

Arab and Muslim-Americans nationwide have reported trouble since the September 11 attacks. The Bar Association joined with other lawyers' groups in Chicago Wednesday to condemn the incidents. It points out that Arab-Americans are hurting just as much as other Americans as a result of the terrorists' acts, and that at least 800 of those killed in New York and Washington were of Arab descent.

Chicago Judge Stuart Nudelman was among the non-Arabs offering his support to a call for officials to continue cracking down on those involved in backlash against Arab-Americans and others as a result of the attacks. He recalls that history is full of examples of what can happen when a particular group of people is singled out for blame or discrimination. "There have been events that have occurred and spawned pogroms and spawned killing of millions of people, whether it be in Europe or lynchings in Alabama," he says. "An event occurs and people are blamed for it. They are scapegoats. We can not let this happen."

President Bush had meetings Wednesday with Sikh and Muslim leaders to express his opposition to such backlash. He says his administration will not allow hateful mistreatment of Muslims or others who have become targets of misplaced rage since September 11.

Officials in the Chicago area say there were dozens of cases of anti-Arab backlash in the days after the attacks. The number of incidents do not appear to be increasing now, but Arab-American Bar Association President Rouhy Shalabi worries there could be an increase if there are additional terrorist attacks, or if the U.S. military takes action to catch terrorists or their supporters. "Because inevitably, if there is a war, emotions are going to get high and that could turn violent as far as we are concerned," he says.

Mr. Shalabi says Arab-Americans experienced similar backlash during the 1991 Gulf War, and immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, before officials identified Timothy McVeigh as the suspect.