Hate in the News: Violence Against Arab Americans and Muslims

Kelvin Datcher, Southern Poverty Law Center

Vol. 23, No. 3-4, 2001 pp. 8-9

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, another form of terrorism emerged. This terrorism was homegrown, and most often, Americans were attacking Americans. Within hours-and long before any suspects had been identified-reports of harassment and violence against Arab Americans and Muslims began to pour in. Within days, the harassment and violence had escalated to murder.

The areas that saw the most violence during this "backlash" were Michigan, California and New York, not coincidentally the three states with the largest Arab populations.

The American South did not escape the senselessness, however. There were scattered reports in most states, but Florida, which has the largest Arab American population in the region with about 50,000, saw the most numerous and startling incidents.

Among those acts, an Orlando disc jockey blamed "ragheads" for the attacks on air, arrows and bullets were fired into mosques, and Islamic schools and businesses were closed due to bomb threats. The man accused of the first murder during this wave of violence also has southern roots. Frank Roque, whose alleged Arizona rampage includes shooting and killing one Sikh man and shooting at a Lebanese-American and into the home of a Syrian family, is a native Alabamian.

The South's legacy of racial strife has been rekindled anew, and this time it is not limited to black and white. Following are a list of attacks of violence against Arab Americans and Muslims in Southern states, provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

-Kelvin Datcher, Staff Writer, SPLC.

Alabama

A Middle Eastern store clerk was beaten.

An Indian medical student's car was vandalized.

Florida

Someone attempted to run a Muslim woman in Brooksville off the road.

The pilot of a United Airlines flight from Tampa to Cairo arbitrarily refused to allow an Egyptian American to board.

Police found a bullet embedded in the wall of Hernando County's only mosque.

An arrow was shot through the front window and into a washing machine at a Muslim-owned laundromat in Green Cove.

The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida closed its school for a week after a deluge of threatening phone calls. The mosque is also paying for an off-duty police officer to conduct daily patrols after someone drove a car onto the grounds and yelled curses about Muslims and God.

A Palestinian American in St. Petersburg had his car vandalized with paint. A threatening note was also left on the windshield.

Three Jacksonville traffic schools were closed after receiving bomb threats. The schools are owned by Arab Americans.

A family in Temple Terrace found their garage door vandalized with the words "Muslims F***."

Georgia

Four men in the Atlanta area attempted to stab a Sudanese man. They said, "You killed our people in New York. We want to kill you tonight."

Kentucky

Two Islamic meeting places were vandalized.

A Lexington man posted a sign in a neighborhood reading, "Arabs are Murderers." He refused to remove the sign when his neighborhood association asked him. Two Arab Americans live in the neighborhood.

An Indian student was attacked when he was mistaken for an Arab.

Louisiana

The Jefferson Parish public school system in New Orleans closed down due to classmate taunts of Arab and Muslim students.

Tennessee

Two Arab American clinic workers received threatening phone calls. They were told to "go home and get out of our country" and called "foreign fags." Their daughter in Atlanta, Georgia, also received threatening phone calls.

Texas

At least six bullets shattered windows at the Islamic Center of Irving.


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In San Antonio, a Delta Airlines pilot ejected an Arab businessman from his first-class seat.

A window at the Islamic Center of Carrollton was broken by a slingshot-type device, according to police.

A San Antonio Iranian restaurant was vandalized.

A professor of Middle Eastern languages and cultures at the University of Texas was spat on by a pedestrian.

In Austin, an Arab American realtor received anonymous telephone threats ordering him to "leave this country or else!"

At the University of Texas in Austin, students wearing Islamic garb said their bags were searched by university police before they were admitted to classrooms and they were told to leave the student union because of "anti-Muslim sentiment."

In San Antonio, two Muslim girls were verbally abused at their high school.

A Pakistani Muslim storeowner in Dallas was shot and killed. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a bias-related crime.

Three bullets struck the Sahara Grocery Market in San Antonio.

A woman was sent home from work the day after the attacks following a meeting with her boss, who had singled her out because of her Palestinian heritage. He stated he didn't know if she would be celebrating the death of Americans in the office.

A Molotov cocktail was thrown against the side of the Islamic Society of Denton, causing an estimated $2,500 in damage.

Virginia

An Islamic bookstore was vandalized in Old Town Alexandria.

Two Virginia mosques reported vandalism and threatening phone calls.

A woman was charged with threatening to bomb a mosque in Hampton.

Washington, D.C.

Rippy Singh was stopped by four white men in a car who accused him of being a terrorist and who said "we will bomb you."

A Sikh was leaving work when he was accosted by pedestrians who began to yell verbal expletives at him. They threatened to "get" him and bomb him in retaliation for the terrorist acts.

At Dulles International Airport, a United Airlines flight to London was delayed for four hours after a Saudi pilot requested permission to fly in the cockpit jump seat, a courtesy extended to pilots of all U.S. carriers before September 11. The United pilot refused and returned to the gate where the Saudi pilot and two other men were detained and questioned by the FBI and INS for three hours before being released.

The Islamic Center received bomb threats, causing Massachusetts Avenue to be closed off.

Two women wearing traditional religious headdress where spat upon as they rode a subway near the White House.

Sources: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (www.adc.org), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (www.cair-net.org), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (www.apalc.org), police and wire reports. These incidents and others from states beyond the South-as well as resources for combating racial violence and discrimination-are posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center's website: www.tolerance.org.