Muslim and Arab-Americans feeling the backlash

· Sep 17, 2001 Tweet

As America struggles to come to terms with last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, Muslim and Arab students and families wage their own battles against the ignorance and prejudice of those who blame all Arab-Americans and Muslims for this new wave of global terrorism.

In a conversation with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Governor George Pataki, President Bush stressed the importance of placing blame where it is due, not on innocent people.

“I know I don’t need to tell you this, but our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab-Americans who live in New York City, who love their flag just as mush as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve,” Bush said. “I know that it is your attitude as well, certainly the attitude of this government, that we should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror.”

While harassment reports on the UW-Madison campus are slim, defamatory remarks and acts have affected many people nationwide — from vandalism of mosques to threatening comments towards Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Hiba Bashir, whose parents are from Sudan and who routinely covers herself out of religious custom, said the most serious harassment she experienced was from the news media. Bashir said an NBC 15 News team followed her as she walked through Library Mall Tuesday afternoon.

“They had the camera six to ten inches away from my face,” Bashir said. “They weren’t asking questions, not asking for comments, just filming me.”

After repeatedly asking the camera crew to leave her alone, Bashir had to physically push the camera away from her.

Denny Hanafy, member of the UW Indonesian Student Association, said while he has not seen or experienced any harassment, he is fearful of the local repercussions of any American attack on an Arab country.

“Hopefully things will not get to that point,” Hanafy said. “I hope people can keep open minds.”

UW Interem Provost Gary Sandefur said he has seen only a few reported concerns on campus, but he wants to ensure that violence directed towards Muslims and Arab-Americans does not occur.

“We’re trying to get in front of the backlash,” Sandefur said. “There are support systems in place.”

“We must remember that Muslim and Arab communities in the United States and throughout the world are as disturbed and upset by Tuesday’s events as anyone,” Sandefur said in an e-mail addressed to the UW community.

Sandefur said he encourages international students who experience harassment or feel threatened to contact the provost’s office.

Muslim groups in the Madison area reported that they experienced no serious backlash in the wake of the attacks, but are still concerned about possible harassment.

Salis Erschen, member of the Islamic Center of Madison, said the organization had received a wave of support from community members, and praised Madison residents’ handling of the situation.

Erschen said he fears that Americans may erroneously believe terrorism is condoned by the Islamic religion.

“This is not the politics of Islam,” Erschen said. “We have been terrorized in this as well.”

Bashir said she has been trying to continue with her normal routine, but she has been having difficulty because she does not feel safe on campus.

“I don’t go by myself anywhere anymore,” Bashir said. “If I feel someone behind me when I’m walking, I always have to be on guard to make sure they don’t do anything to me.”

“Everyone forgets that students who cover [their head, arms and legs] on campus are as American as they are. We feel as hurt and as angry as they do.”

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This article was published Sep 17, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Sep 17, 2001 at 12:00 am

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