Rise in Hate Crimes Worries Arab-Americans ; Recent Incidents in an Edgy America Raise Questions about How to Keep the US Safe

By Amanda Paulson writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Rise in Hate Crimes Worries Arab-Americans ; Recent Incidents in an Edgy America Raise Questions about How to Keep the US Safe


Amanda Paulson writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The murders had terrorized shopkeepers in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood for more than a month.

They seemed to have no motive: No provocation had been given, no money was taken.

But when Larme Price confessed to the crime more than a week ago, he said his aim was to kill Middle Easterners, in retribution for Sept. 11.

In fact, only one of the four victims was from the Middle East. But it's the intent, say concerned residents, that counts.

Across the country, the past few weeks have been an uneasy time for Arab-Americans. The murders are just one part of a disturbing uptick in violent hate crimes that have worried Arab-American groups - from the Afghan man set on fire in his Indianapolis restaurant to the Pakistani who was beaten unconscious in a New Jersey parking lot, as his two attackers hurled insults to Islam.

Another, more immediate concern for many Arab-Americans is increased surveillance and profiling. They worry about getting deported on a technicality, or finding themselves unwitting terrorist suspects in a nightmarish Kafkaesque scenario. "I'm afraid of giving out my number and having it put in someone's phone book," says Shaker Lashuel, a soft-spoken schoolteacher from Yemen who has lived in the US for 16 years. "It's guilt by association."

The fear that Mr. Lashuel and other Arab-Americans feel raises a tough question for the US government: how to keep America safe from potential terrorists without fostering an atmosphere of discrimination or hate.

"It's a balancing act," says Philip Anderson, director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "You have to weigh national security, and safety at home, against a threat to privacy.... But the real strength of America is that we have a legal system that's almost certainly going to protect us when these kinds of things come into question."

Not everyone agrees with him.

While most Arab-Americans laud government officials for speaking out against hate crimes and blanket accusations against Islam, they say another, subtler message is sent by policies such as forced registration, deportation, and FBI interviews of Arab-Americans.

The increasing anti-Islam rhetoric from some right-wing websites and radio talk-show hosts also helps create an atmosphere in which hate and prejudice can thrive.

Popular websites like World Net Daily and FrontPage Magazine "have articles almost every day calling Muslims the fifth column," says Hodan Hassan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). …

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