As Americans remember the almost 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, they must also acknowledge the assaults on Arabs and the killing of others who “looked” Middle Eastern as part of a backlash in the weeks afterwards, officials of the nation’s largest anti-discrimination committee said this week.
Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said that it is up to Arabs and Muslims to highlight the dozens of serious assaults and murders that took place.
So far, organizations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have failed to acknowledge the high price paid by Arab and Muslim Americans for the public anger.
“The aftermath and the backlash was serious. Any time you have a loss of life due to violence, whether it is due to the senseless terrorism that we had that day, is always serious,” Ayoub said.
“And the backlash against the community should be taken seriously as well. There were a number of backlash murders.”
Few of the killings have been reported by the mainstream US news media over the years. Among the victims in which post 9/11 anger was cited as a cause, four victims stand out.
Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Arizona. The turban-wearing Sikh was killed outside his gas station by a suspect who spent hours at a bar drinking and bragging that he planned to “kill the towel-heads responsible for Sept. 11.”
A 46-year-old Pakistani, Waqar Hasan, was working in his convenience store in Dallas, Texas, when he was shot and killed on the same day that Sodhi died. The suspect went on to murder Rais Bhuiyan, a former Bangladeshi air force pilot, and attacked a Hindu Indian, Vasudev Patel, days later.
In other cases, police and government agencies were reluctant to describe murders of Arabs or Muslims as being the result of “hate crimes” stemming from public anger over the Sept. 11 attacks.
Backlash violence continues to be a major challenge for Arabs and Muslims on top of the many instances of non-lethal acts of discrimination.
“There needs to be more recognition for these victims. There also needs to be an understanding that it hasn’t stopped. The hate crimes continue,” Ayoub told Arab News.
“The violent hate crimes have continued. This is born out of the Sept. 11 attacks. It is directly an aftermath and effect of that. So even though we are 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, we are still seeing the fallout against the community on many fronts, on the violent hate crime attacks and the passive discrimination we see in the workplace. It is definitely out there.”
Ayoub said that part of the problem was that before Sept. 11, mainstream US law enforcement agencies and personnel were ill-equipped to deal with the rising number of hate crimes or violence.
“Hate crime reporting is very hard to enforce. Many municipalities won’t bring hate crime charges and won’t investigate hate crime charges. It is definitely a flaw in the law enforcement in the way these charges are brought,” Ayoub said.
“And it is an issue we have picked up on over the past 20 years and something that needs to be taken seriously. Law enforcement was not in any way equipped. They didn’t have the understanding of the community. They didn’t have the knowledge of even hate crime laws within their own districts or jurisdictions. And that’s why we see so little action brought against these perpetrators.”
Ayoub said that racism and bigotry are still serious problems for Arabs and Muslims in the US, and the community needs to push back by demanding recognition of this, and also by helping to better educate the mainstream US public on the contribution, patriotism and dedication to the US of the Arab and Muslim community.
“We are American,” Ayoub said.
“We have to continue pushing back through our work, and be front and center in the news media to put our stories out there. We have to be involved at all levels of government from local associations and municipalities to state and federal levels, including Congress and the Senate.”
Ayoub said that the Arab and Muslim American community “has grown over the past 20 years,” and Americans “have taken more time to understand who we are, and understand our culture and our religion.”
He added: “We are headed in the right direction. It is definitely far better. We have organized ourselves as a community. The backlash — when you really break down the hatred toward the community, we can see where it is coming from.”
But he also said that Arabs and Muslims need to be more involved on every issue and at all levels of US society, not only in confronting hate crimes in order to strengthen the fight against racism and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.
Ayoub made his comments during an appearance on Wednesday, Sept. 8 on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News. The radio show is broadcast live in Detroit and in Washington DC.
To listen to the full radio show interview, visit ArabNews.com.