- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Sameera Sayed fled Afghanistan in the 1980s for the security of Georgetown after Russian occupation turned her homeland into a war zone.
She opened a restaurant at 3320 M St. NW called Afghan Kabob.
Three days after the September 11 attack on America, war returned as she was about to open her restaurant. Vandals broke the front window, overturned flower pots at the entrance and wrote threatening graffiti on her storefront.
One bit of graffiti said, "You guys destroy my country, we have to destroy you."
The vandalism was preceded by anonymous calls bearing similar threats.
"I called the police twice because so many people called us to scare us," Mrs. Sayed says. She called again after the vandalism. "They said, 'We can't do anything right now.'"
"It was terrible," Mrs. Sayed says. "Everywhere they misunderstand people."
She dismisses the incident now as a backlash to images of airliners slamming into the World Trade Center and smoke rising over the horizon from the nearby Pentagon. Since then, business has returned to previous levels.
"We got so many other good people who support us," Mrs. Sayed says. "They came here to eat the food."
Although many people of Middle Eastern descent report no significant harassment, others give graphic examples of what happens when business and politics mix in a volatile combination.
Among the approximately 3 million Arab Americans, at least 150,000 are business owners, according to Austin, Texas-based International Demographic and Economic Associates, an organization that tabulates business trends primarily among the Arab-American community. Fifteen percent of the Arab business owners are in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Hundreds of hate-based incidents are documented in testimony submitted to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by the Arab American Institute for the first month after September 11. They range from street-level words of harassment to government detention and interrogation of Muslims.
The AAIF documented 10 incidents in Maryland, six in the District and 40 in Virginia.
"In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Arab Americans found themselves the targets of incidents of hate and bias," says James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, in written testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Uncertain future
Now, the immediate aftermath is gone, replaced by the day-to-day routines that preceded September 11. However, opinions in the Arab and Muslim community vary widely on whether life will return to normal anytime soon.
"Yes, they are suffering more so than other businesses because of the negative stereotypes that have been generated," says Ali Dagher, vice chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.
The entire U.S. economy is down from recession but Arab and Muslim businesses are down an additional 10 percent, he says.
"You got the bad economy and what I would call the discrimination economy," Mr. Dagher says. "I don't know how long it's going to take to reverse it but it's still there."
Hardest hit are the "mom and pop stores," like minimarkets and gasoline stations, in which customers have an option of driving a few more blocks to buy from a competitor, he says.
"If people can find your products elsewhere, they're inclined to do that," Mr. Dagher says.
In recent weeks, business has been returning to Arabs and Muslims, but the war on the predominantly Arab and Muslim terrorists continues amid predictions of further attacks.
"If something bad occurs, it would be harder to recover from it," Mr. Dagher says.
With only a few exceptions, most Arab and Muslim businesses in the Washington area report their revenue has returned as hard feelings ease.
Miranda Conyers says the only difference she has noticed is that more government agencies ask her to do translations from Arabic in their offices. Before September 11, they allowed her to take work back to her Annandale office of Arabic-English Translation and Secretarial Services Inc. and complete it there.
"It became more secretive," she says about the heightened security at federal agencies.
The number of her customers has remained the same. "Most of my customers are people who know me and always give me work," Mrs. Conyers says.
None of her customers would notice the only change she made in the way she does business.
"I started the practice of locking my office when I'm here alone," she says.
Dining-room business at Alexandria's Afghan Restaurant has returned to normal, but not the ballroom reservations.
"Usually we were booked for the next three months; now we have nothing until the first of April," says Roya Ansarian, Afghan Restaurant's assistant manager.
The ballroom was popular for wedding receptions among both Afghans and Americans. Part of the downturn results from the business slump suffered by Washington's entire restaurant and hotel industry after September 11, Miss Ansarian says.
The restaurant continues to run the same television and radio ads it ran even before September. But the loss of ballroom business which brings in about half the restaurant's income mysteriously lingers.
"We think it's that people don't think they're going to be safe here," Miss Ansarian says.

Anger vented
Some Arab businessmen believe any reprisals were temporary as the community vented its anger.
"I think people at that time were just crazy," says Hazem Barakat, owner of Old Town Islamic Bookstore in Alexandria. He was discussing an act of vandalism against his bookstore on Sept. 12.
"They broke both windows and they sent hate notes," says Mr. Barakat, who describes himself as "a small United Nations." He is a Palestinian who grew up in Jerusalem but now has American citizenship.
The hate directed at his bookstore soon was replaced with sympathy.
"In this neighborhood in Old Town Alexandria, the people were very nice," he says. "They sent cards and flowers. One businessman in this area he doesn't want me to mention his name he repaired the windows."
He did not need to market his bookstore any differently because news reports did it for him. After September 11, business picked up as curiosity seekers bought books and asked questions about Islam and Arabs.
Some asked why Arab men might have four wives. Others asked in accusing terms why Arabs would target such a cold-blooded attack against the United States.
"People came from churches and synagogues and asked about Islam," Mr. Barakat says. "Some of them were angry. These people who did these acts on September 11, they have nothing to do with Islam."
He advises Muslims to be patient. "It will get better," Mr. Barakat says.
For many Muslim businesses in the Washington area, the only acts of hatred they witnessed have been on television. One that emerged unscathed is Afghan Carpet Services, Inc. in Takoma Park.
"We've been treated very fairly," says Nesar Nusraty, the company owner whose accent is about as American as a McDonald's hamburger. Business was good before September 11 and continues to be good, he says.
His company has installed carpets in the Oval Office of the White House, the MCI Center and various government offices for the General Services Administration.
"American people as a whole want to help out," Mr. Nusraty says. "It seems that the events of September 11 brought the world's richest nation in touch with the poorest and now the richest nation is reaching out its hand to help."
He believes any discrimination against Afghans is mislaid.
"Afghanistan was being used, first by the Soviets and then the terrorists," Mr. Nusraty says.

Volatile workplace
Although business owners are generally optimistic, Arab and Muslim employees of corporations report more frequent discrimination.
In a Gaithersburg construction worker's case, his own co-workers turned against him. After repeated threats and insults involving his Arab ancestry including one implied threat of attack with a metal pipe the worker complained to a supervisor. He says the supervisor responded, "Well, don't you think they have a right to be angry?"
"I was shocked," says the worker, who asked not to be identified.
He has hired an attorney to represent him in an anti-discrimination claim but continues to worry about whether he will hold onto his job.
"If I get fired, I want you to know I have three kids," he says. "There's no way I could find a job right now. I went through this with the Gulf war and it was tough."
The construction workers' situation illustrates what some Arab community leaders see as the greatest problem they face.
"The backlash we have witnessed since September 11 has changed," says Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "In the first weeks, the crimes were against property and acts of violence. Since then, the number of them has dwindled to almost nothing. The bulk of the complaints we get from around the nation, including this area, are discrimination in the workplace."
The committee advises Arabs who complain about job discrimination that they have a right to legal action, either through private lawsuits or complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Recent statistics from the EEOC show discrimination is common. By Jan. 29, the EEOC was investigating 252 complaints by Arabs, Muslims or Sikhs nationwide linked to the war on terrorism. California led the nation with 41, Texas was second with 28. In the Washington area, Virginia had 12, the District nine and Maryland six.
The most common complaint was unfair discharge. Second most common was ethnic or religious harassment on the job. Arab employees of airlines and aviation companies lodge many of the complaints.
"It's something we're taking quite seriously," says James Ryan, EEOC spokesman. The agency has assigned a special code to the post-September 11 complaints, called "Code Z."
Many of the EEOC complaints by Arabs are pending. The Bush administration has warned reprisal against Muslims would not be tolerated. The Justice Department has threatened criminal prosecution for hate crimes.
Nevertheless, the same government personnel charged with enforcing the laws are sometimes the focus of the workplace discrimination complaints.
In one case, a Falls Church tax revenue office supervisor fired an Egyptian American for reporting an anti-Arab slur to a lawyer and the city manager, according to the Arab American Institute. After hearing a suspect in the September 11 attack was detained by police, the boss said, "Did he have a rag on his head?"
The termination letter from the supervisor reportedly says the Egyptian American and another worker who supported him "challenged my integrity, impeding my authority to operate this office. Your action is harassment and a breach of trust in our relationship."
In another incident, a Saudi airline pilot was detained for three hours and interrogated at Washington Dulles International Airport in September. A fellow United Airlines pilot refused to fly with him, delaying the flight to London for four hours. After questioning by agents of the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Saudi pilot was released.


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