Muslims, Arab communities around nation targeted for abuse; political leaders call for calm

Friday, September 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tears welled up in Mohammad Kasmaei's eyes as he recounted the angry telephone calls that keep pouring into his Ali Baba Restaurant in Anaheim, Calif.

``You can't stay in the U.S.,'' was one message. Another caller simply reeled off bitter obscenities.

``I am an American citizen,'' the Iranian-born Kasmaei said Thursday, his voice despairing. ``I'm very sorry right now.''

While Kasmaei said he felt as deeply for the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks as he would for his own family, he and other Muslims and people of Middle Eastern heritage were increasingly being hounded by an angry public looking for someone to blame.

A mosque in Denton, Texas, was firebombed and another in Lynnwood, Wash., was splattered with black paint this week. Police in Bridgeview, Ill., turned back 300 people as they tried to march on a mosque.

Twelve hours after the attacks in New York and Washington, a 40-year-old man allegedly stormed into a Seattle mosque and threatened to burn it down. He was arrested for malicious harassment.

In Laramie, Wyo., a woman and her children were chased from a Wal-Mart by angry shoppers.

``The people who screamed in her face wanted her to go back to her country,'' said Khaled Ksaibati, the faculty adviser for the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wyoming. ``This is her country. She was born here.''

Renee Hamel, 15, of Berlin, Conn., said in the wake of the attacks, her faith has become an obstacle to making friends.

``I'm afraid to tell people that I'm Muslim because I'm afraid they'll think negatively about me,'' she said.

Political leaders across the country called on people not to blame innocent Americans for Tuesday's deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But often their admonitions were ignored.

``We should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror,'' President Bush said Thursday.

California Gov. Gray Davis asked people to avoid ``finger-pointing and scapegoating,'' while Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson urged residents to be rational.

``The acts of 50 fanatics and lunatics should not be held against one group,'' Anderson said.

A day after the attacks, three teen-agers hurled a skateboard through the window of the Sinbad Ranch market, one of many Arab-American businesses in Anaheim. Police caught them and their parents apologized.

In Fair Haven, Mich., the windows of Mazen Mislmanion's family service station were shot up by vandals Wednesday night.

``It's like we did it or something,'' said Mislmanion, who planned to donate blood this week. ``People are swearing at me.''

The threats and swears also were directed at Islamic centers all around the country.

``You will all die'' and ``Get out of this country'' were among the ones left on an answering machine at an Islamic center in Bellevue, Wash.

In California's capital of Sacramento, home to about 25,000 Muslims, security was increased at mosques and Muslim leaders asked women not to go outside in their traditional black robes.

In Washington state, the Islamic School of Seattle suspended classes out of concern for students' safety.

The second half of the Arab Film Festival was canceled in Berkeley, Calif., out of sympathy for victims and concern for the safety of participants, said festival publicist Tracey Bigelow.

In Los Angeles, there were at least eight hate incidents following the attacks, including one in which police said a gun was put to a woman's face.

``We've been fighting an uphill battle,'' said Nasser Beydoun, director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. ``A lot of people left their homelands to escape this violence.''

In the midst of the backlash, pockets of compassion could still be found.

Churches in Seattle were offering safe havens and around-the-clock security to Muslims. In Wyoming, somebody left flowers at the door of the Islamic Center of Laramie with a letter that said no Americans should be singled out for hatred.

``For every one bad action we're probably seeing 20, 30 good actions,'' said Ksaibati of the University of Wyoming.