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JEFFREY KAYE: Just a few minutes north of Disneyland is “little Gaza.” The neighborhood is the heart of southern California’s Middle Eastern community. Here, Muslims and Arab Americans come to pray, eat, and shop.
At Sinbad’s Ranch Market, up until a year ago, customers were just another part of southern California’s multiethnic landscape. But things are now different, says Syrian-born Abdo Khouraki, the market owner. He and his customers think of life before and after September 11.
ABDO KHOURAKI: Before, we were almost like a regular community, any other community. Now, we feel we are kind of different, we are, kind of, being watched. We are, kind of, everybody pointing finger at us, like we are the one who did it, which is…we have nothing to do with it, even we are against it 100 percent.
SPOKESMAN: The oceans of Allah are unlimited.
JEFFREY KAYE: At the nearby mosque, a focal point for Muslim life, there is also talk of a community under suspicion. After September 11, some members were interrogated by FBI agents looking for terrorist connections. The government also closed down three prominent national Islamic charities, citing alleged ties to terrorists. The organizations had enjoyed wide community support, since charitable giving is a central principle of Islam.
Hedab Tarifi, a Palestinian raised in Kuwait, is active in the California Muslim community. She says many Muslims now fear if they donate to other Islamic charities, they’ll be investigated.
HEDAB TARIFI: They’re afraid to give checks because they don’t want, in any way, their name to be associated with what the government might consider illegal or suspicious.
JEFFREY KAYE: Anti-Muslim incidents, well-publicized in the Islamic community, have also generated fear. The Council on American-Islamic Relations cites hundreds of episodes, ranging from violent attacks, including several killings, to threats, hate mail, and public harassment. For Tarifi, fear hit close to home. First came the shooting, soon after 9/11, of an Egyptian American grocer.
HEDAB TARIFI: And I knew this guy. He was one of the first people that I’d known when I first came to California, and he wasn’t even a Muslim. The only reason behind his killing was because he was Middle Eastern. And that came of the same day where my sister told me that her staff had received a call from someone who was asking, “What is the background of the dentist, the owner of the practice?” And it scared the heck out of me.
JEFFREY KAYE: Someone called your sister’s office and asked if she was a Muslim?
HEDAB TARIFI: Yes. Or an Arab.
JEFFREY KAYE: The feeling of fear is particularly acute among Muslim women, who stand out because they choose to wear headscarves out of religious conviction. Tarifi found her loyalties being questioned by strangers.
HEDAB TARIFI: For instance, you know, why Muslims hate America.
JEFFREY KAYE: You were asked that?
HEDAB TARIFI: Yeah. And I’m like, “I don’t hate America.” I chose to come to America. How can I hate it? So it’s that kind of generalization. And then when I answer the question, “Oh, but you know Osama bin Laden?” But like what do I have to do with Osama bin Laden?
JEFFREY KAYE: At a local Persian restaurant, Muslim women spoke of their fear of being in public, subjected to glares and shouted insults.
MARYANN DADABHOY: And sometimes when I’m going home from work, people will scream something out their window, something offensive. And, you know, it scares me because I’m, like, if they can say stuff, then, you know, they could also do stuff.
JEFFREY KAYE: Sabiha Kahn works for the council on American- Islamic relations. Born in Los Angeles to Pakistani immigrants, she now feels the need to watch even her most innocent words and actions.
SABIHA KAHN: A few nights back, I went out to dinner with a friend of mine, and we were just having conversation about what we would like to do for our vacation, you know. And then she just pulled out a map of some place where we would like to stay. And then I wasn’t thinking about this, but as soon as she put it away, I was like, “Maybe we shouldn’t have done that in public.”
JEFFREY KAYE: Why were you thinking, “I shouldn’t have done that?”
SABIHA KAHN: Well, because the people might get the wrong message. You know, “Why is a Muslim looking at a map?” When they don’t know that we’re talking about our vacation, basically.
JEFFREY KAYE: For Tarifi, who works as a computer specialist, one response to fear was to get more involved in educating non-Muslims about her views on her faith and culture.
HEDAB TARIFI: Salam Aleichem, boys and girls. Greetings of peace. Salam aleichem is the Arabic way of greeting among Muslims.
JEFFREY KAYE: In this case, speaking at an assembly of very curious middle school students.
STUDENT: Why do the males rule over the women in Islam?
HEDAB TARIFI: Some Muslim societies treat Muslim women badly. You know, again, it’s the society, it has nothing to do with Islam. Just as there are abused American women, there are abused Muslim women.
JEFFREY KAYE: Muslims have responded to curiosity, and in some cases, hostility towards Islam, by organizing lessons in public speaking.
SPEAKER: It’s not about victimization. It’s really about taking this opportunity to give us a deeper understanding of our religion, and to use this as an opportunity to empower other Muslims who are confused.
JEFFREY KAYE: Muslim activists have been troubled by critics, who have publicly condemned Islam as a violent and evil religion…
This seminar used role-playing to deal with handling hostile questions.
WOMAN: Isn’t it true that Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for you?
SEMINAR PARTICIPANT: Islam does not tell us to send our children to die for us. Islam tells us to care for our children from day one, and teach them how to pray, and to be a good citizen.
JEFFREY KAYE: While many Muslims have complained about anti- Islamic sentiment, they say they have also been touched by expressions of support.
MARYAM DADABHOY: Like, my mom was at the store, and she was just standing and buying something at Target, and this lady was looking at her, and my mom’s like, “Oh, boy, she’s going to…” well, she came by, she held my mom’s hand, and she said, “I hope people are being nice to you.” So, these are complete strangers who are coming up, and you know, showing support for us. And we heard of people who had called the mosque to say, “Do you need someone to go shopping for your Muslim women? We’ll go do their groceries for them.”
HEDAB TARIFI: I need your help.
JEFFREY KAYE: To show their grief over the lives lost on September 11, Tarifi, and others in the Muslim community, decided to make a quilt.
HEDAB TARIFI: That has all the names of the victims.
JEFFREY KAYE: Tarifi is hoping this ambitious project will allow Muslims to be seen as part of the American tapestry.
HEDAB TARIFI: As you see, it’s, you know, the… all the patriotic colors, you know, the stars, and the red, white and blue. I wanted people to realize that, “Oh, this quilt is made by American Muslims.” And American Muslims are just as part of America as everybody else.
JEFFREY KAYE: Tarifi and others working on the quilt say that because the 9/11 victims were killed in the name of Islam, American Muslims must continue to denounce terror, and to demonstrate their commitment to peace.