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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

This Is No Time to Hide

September 23, 2001|NIDAL M. IBRAHIM | Nidal M. Ibrahim lives in Orange County and is editor of the Huntington Beach-based Arab-American Business Magazine. and

Almost two weeks after one of the most despicable acts of our time, American horror and sorrow have turned to anger. Unfortunately, that anger on the part of some is badly misguided, targeting fellow Americans--who happen to be either Muslim and/or of Arab descent--and their businesses.

In Anaheim, Garden Grove and Westminster, where a large concentration of Arab Americans lives and works, fear and apprehension are widespread. The same is true for Riverside, Glendale, the South Bay area and other parts of Southern California, which is home to some 350,000 Arab Americans, one of the largest communities in the country.

Some Arab Americans have adopted a siege mentality, being hesitant to shop, be seen in public and continue their daily routines. Business activity nationwide has been severely hampered by the apprehension that has gripped the Arab American community.

Attacks targeting Arab Americans and American Muslims are being reported in virtually every city that has a large concentration of Americans of Middle Eastern descent. The FBI has said it is investigating more than 40 possible hate crimes, including arsons, assaults and at least three murders, including one in the San Gabriel Valley. Additionally, hundreds of threats and angry phone calls have not been reported to authorities, as Arab Americans and American Muslims desperately hope the situation will settle down.

Although there has been widespread scapegoating of Arab Americans and American Muslims, there has also been an overwhelming show of support. At Arab-American Business Magazine, we have received numerous positive letters and e-mails, some from as far away as Texas, Georgia and Massachusetts. But we have received death threats.

On a more personal note, I find myself at the receiving end of, if not hateful, certainly questioning looks from fellow Orange County residents, including some with whom I have interacted for more than two years.

What happened Sept. 11 is a tragedy for all Americans, regardless of ethnic or religious background. The perpetrators made no effort to discriminate between Christians, Muslims and Jews, nor whether their intended victims were of Irish, Asian or Arab background. The goal was to inflict damage and to terrorize all Americans.

As for the Arab American community, despite the justifiable fear and apprehension that have gripped many of us, it is now more imperative than ever that we stand up and be active--at the ballot boxes, in financing and participating in political campaigns, in radio talk shows and in letters to the editor.

No longer is it acceptable to simply allow a small, vocal contingent of Arab Americans and American Muslims to shoulder the load in representing us at the national, state and local level.

No longer is it acceptable to live our lives in quiet seclusion, focused only on our immediate families and short-term interests.

No longer is it acceptable to relegate the horrors of occupation, political intimidation and assassinations to the land of our ancestors. In some form or another, they are now all present at our front doors.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to define and characterize who we are and what we believe in. If we fail to do so, there are those who will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to fill the vacuum, in the process misrepresenting what we stand for as they seek to pursue their own narrow political goals.

No doubt there will be those who will seek to tie the events of Sept. 11 to the steady stream of violence seen in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. True, the death of Palestinian men, women and children is just as tragic and criminal as the loss of any American life.

As Arab Americans and American Muslims, we recognize that our brethren in the Middle East aspire to the same freedoms and liberty that we cherish so dearly in the United States. And we hope that our presence in America as industrious, informed and loyal citizens will stimulate further discussion and analysis of our nation's pivotal role in the crisis and heighten the search for a just, lasting peace in the region.

Yet in order that we position ourselves to play a constructive, balanced role in the Middle East, we must first safeguard and protect our country, the United States.

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