American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Tackles Prejudice in Boston

Article excerpt

Boston's Arabs have made a major step in combating discrimination against Arabs with the recent opening of an American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee/Massachusetts office in Boston's Copley Square.

According to Merrie Nagimy, president of the ADC chapter, several Arab Americans, including a couple of university professors, have lost their jobs since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jeff Boshar, the group's treasurer, said there has been a "16-fold increase in hate crimes" following the 2001 attacks.

"We will not tolerate this discrimination," Nagimy said. "This is a vulnerable community. People are scared and angry." She urged Boston's Arabs, who may number as many as 250,000, to become activists by helping ADC and participating in the political process.

Nagimy also told the crowd of over 50 people attending the opening celebration about ADC's efforts to reverse the decision by Fleet Bank to close the bank accounts of 15 Arabs or South Asians in recent months.

Representatives of ADC, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have met with bank officials to discuss the closings, Nagimy said, and activists have written some 400 letters. "We're not getting reports of other banks terminating accounts," she noted, adding that many activists may stop doing business with Fleet.

Fleet spokesperson Alison Gibbs was unable to say how many accounts held by Muslims or Arabs have been closed recently. Claiming that the bank does not maintain records by ethnicity, race or national origin, she said the accounts would have been reviewed because of questions about particular transactions. All banks are required by law to monitor accounts for suspicious activity, such as large cash deposits, use of ATM machines at various locations or wire transfers that do not appear to fit the pattern of the account. Banks also monitor accounts in case financial loss may be occurring, such as the writing of bad checks.

According to Gibbs, banks are required to report such activity to authorities, not to determine whether or not a crime has been committed. "It's not the bank's place to do law enforcement's job," she said.

While saying she could not comment on specific accounts, Gibbs did state that ADC had claimed that 15 accounts were closed, but said ADC had provided the names for only four accounts. After a review of the situation, Gibbs said, the accounts remain closed. While no more meetings with activists are scheduled, she said, "the dialogue is ongoing."

Fleet Boston Financial, the nation's seventh largest financial holding company, has $200 billion in assets and 1,460 branches in eight northeastern states and Florida. Fleet maintains 2,400 ATM sites.

Other issues of concern to ADC include provisions of the anti-terrorist PATRIOT Act. Nagimy said ADC has created a network of lawyers to help people who have had problems or concerns with immigration and the required registration of men aged 16 to 44 from Arab or Muslim countries. …