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Muslim fear in america as bad as after 911 { November 2006 }

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Fear 'as bad as after 9/11'
Updated 12/12/2006 11:33 PM ET
By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

DEARBORN, Mich. The Arab Muslims who came here eight decades ago to work on Henry Ford's new assembly line believed their American future was limitless. But after five years on the home front in America's war on terrorism, many of their descendants are hunkering down, covering up and staying put.

In this and similar enclaves, like those in northern New Jersey and Brooklyn, many Arab Muslims say their community is turning in on itself shying away from a society increasingly inclined to equate Islam with terrorism.

"It's as bad as after 9/11," says Rana Abbas-Chami of the Michigan American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "A lot of people are scared. They've changed how they do things."

Some stay put. They don't like to fly, cross the border with Canada or shop at malls outside the city. "It's a feeling that if you go too far outside Dearborn, anything can happen," says Osama Siblani, a local newspaper publisher.

Some blend in. They Anglicize their names (Osama Nimer, electrician, is now Samuel Nimer) or change them (Mohammad Bazzi, nurse, is Alex Goldsmith). They trim their beards. In public, they speak English instead of Arabic. They display the flag. They wear the Tigers cap.

Some lie low. They won't contribute to a Muslim charity, at least not by check, and not if it works overseas. They watch what they say, especially on the phone. They think twice before trying to rent a truck, get a hunting license or take a flying lesson.

Some regard Dearborn, center of the nation's largest Arab Muslim community, as an island of security; others see it as a potential trap.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, fears of domestic sabotage led to the internment of Japanese-Americans. Some Arab Muslims wonder if it could happen again especially if there's another domestic terror attack. People here speculate about spies and informers in their midst; government eavesdropping and surveillance; and, if there's another 9/11, concentration camps.

These themes emerged repeatedly in USA TODAY interviews with about two dozen Arab Muslims around the nation.

After the terror attacks in 2001 the work of 19 Arab Muslims who'd moved around the country Arab Muslims living here hoped things would slowly return to normal. Then came prolonged, messy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; post-Sept. 11 security initiatives such as the Patriot Act; al-Qaeda train bombings in London and Madrid; war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Michael Suleiman, a Kansas State University political scientist, says that discrimination against Arab Muslims is virtually inevitable given a government determined to prevent another 9/11 and a populace barraged by images of violence in Iraq and denunciations of what President Bush has called "Islamic fascism."

Now Arab Muslims even those never questioned by the FBI, hassled by the boss or heckled by the jerk in a passing car feel more vulnerable than ever.

"Each crisis makes it more difficult. They're always insecure," Suleiman says. "They ask, 'When is it we actually become Americans? When is the hyphen dropped?' "

Reports of anti-Muslim incidents in the nation jumped 30% last year, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which blames a "negative and politically charged" environment on the Internet and talk radio. The 1,972 complaints of harassment, violence and discrimination were the most since CAIR began totaling incidents in 1995.

Americans seem unsympathetic. Thirty-nine percent say they harbor at least some prejudice against Muslims, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll earlier this year. The same percentage favor requiring U.S. Muslims citizens included to carry special IDs. About a third say U.S. Muslims sympathize with al-Qaeda.

Political leaders have given voice to such worries. In a campaign letter this fall, Rep. Peter King from Long Island generally viewed as a moderate Republican accused American Muslim leaders of insufficiently denouncing the 9/11 attacks. In the past, he has said that 85% of U.S. mosques have "extremist leadership."

Everyone has a story

In heavily Arab east Dearborn, almost everyone from the greenest immigrants to fourth-generation Americans who've never been to the Middle East has a story, or knows someone who does.

Stories like that of Farooq Al-Fatlawi, a bus passenger en route to Chicago, who was put off with his bags in Toledo after he told the driver he was from Iraq.

Other cases this year have attracted national attention:

Bay Area civil rights activist Raed Jarrar was barred from a plane for wearing a T-shirt that said "We will not be silent" in Arabic and English.

Six imams seen praying in a Minneapolis airport terminal were later removed from their flight after a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant saying that the men acted suspiciously on board.

The imams, who were handcuffed, questioned and released, have denied the accusations; five are seeking an out-of-court settlement with US Airways. The airline says the crew acted properly in having the imams removed from the flight.

Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, has been vilified for planning to take a ceremonial oath of office on a Quran.

Arab Muslims interviewed by USA TODAY say other Americans must understand that they pray five times a day, if necessary at work or on the road; they must give alms to the poor and are hard-pressed to do so when the government closes Islamic charities; women's head scarves and men's beards are signs of religious fidelity, not defiance of American custom.

And this: No one has more to lose from another terror attack than Arab Muslims.

What intimidates some galvanizes others to vote, to speak out and to demand the American freedoms extolled by Franklin Roosevelt and Norman Rockwell. The result is a communal split personality, says Imad Hamad of the Anti-Discrimination Committee: "We are in limbo."

Daniel Sutherland, head of the civil rights division of the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledges the complaints from Arab Muslims. He says fighting terrorism while respecting civil rights involves "difficult challenges."

But Sutherland says the government needs the help of U.S. Arab Muslims to fight terrorism at home: "Homeland security isn't gonna be won by people sitting in a building inside the Beltway."

Contributing: Tamara Audi of the Detroit Free Press

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