Arabs in the air

Sept. 11 changed the world. Our way of life and overall happiness are not as they once were. In addition to facing all the factors associated with 9-11 (shock, anger, sorrow, war), many Arab-Americans and Muslims around the nation face a wave of discrimination and hate crime that emanates from their fellow citizens and the government. But who actually are Arab- Americans?

The U.S. Census Bureau does not use an Arab-American classification. How many Arab-Americans are there? And where do they live?

According to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Arab-Americans are U.S. citizens and permanent residents who trace their ancestry to or immigrated from Arabic-speaking places in southwestern Asia and northern Africa, commonly called the Middle East. Not all people in this region are Arabs. Most Arab-Americans were born in the United States.

As for the number of Arab-Americans, the ADC states that estimates vary, but about 3 million live in the United States. They live in all 50 states. About a third are concentrated in California, Michigan and New York. Another third are in these seven states: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and Texas.

Two days after the attack, on Sept. 13, leaders from the ADC and the Arab American Institute expressed concern to the Justice Department over more than 200 incidents of abuse directed against community members. The incidents range from verbal threats and vicious emails to physical attacks and destruction of property.

Since then, the ADC has reported on new instances of hate crimes and discrimination against Arab-Americans and Muslims that have unfolded across the country. In cities including Tampa, Orlando, Minneapolis and San Antonio, pilots or passengers caused Arab-American or Muslim passengers, who had passed though rigorous security checks and been seated, to be expelled from the aircraft simply on the grounds of their apparent ethnicity.

In one instance, three Arab-American men were expelled from Northwest Flight 673 from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City at the insistence of other passengers because of their ethnicity. When the other passengers refused to fly if the three remained on board, Northwest expelled the Arab Americans from the plane.

In another case in Orlando, two businessmen from Pakistan were expelled from a flight they had boarded because the pilots insisted on their expulsion due to perceived ethnicity.

The discrimination at airports around the nation is impacting Arab- Americans and Muslims locally as well.

“I’m not going to fly,” said local Muslim leader and SHSU graduate student Abd’Allah Muhammed-Bey, who usually goes by air to visit his relatives in Delaware every year. “I’m going to drive now. The humiliation factor is too high, and I want my kids to see the country.”

In another case, a 23-year-old SHSU student from the Middle East had made plans to visit some friends in Europe over the upcoming holidays but has since cancelled his travel plans. The student and his parents, who live in a Middle Eastern country, had talked about bringing him home after Sept. 11 but eventually decided not to.

Psychology Professor Cheryl Anisman, a third generation Arab-American, flies regularly to visit her husband and daughter, who live in New York.

“They say it’s random,” said Anisman, “but they check my bags and touch me every time.”

Anisman said after she arrives at the gate where her plane will depart, airport security will announce her name on the loudspeaker for yet another search. And on a recent flight, the airline did not let her take a carry-on bag, whereas everyone else on the plane was allowed to.

Anisman has not been asked to leave any airplanes but has seen others that have been denied passage.

“I was on a flight, and there was an old guy and what looked like his daughter and her son. They were thrown off the flight because of their last name,” Anisman said, adding that the name was a very common Middle Eastern last name.

Other than problems with travel, Arab-Americans and Muslims have not seemed to face much discrimination at SHSU or in the Huntsville area.

“We haven’t had any problems,” said one representative of a locally Muslim owned business. However, “Discrimination comes from ignorance and exists everywhere.”

Many would agree that education is the key to ending discrimination.

“If I’m getting anything out this experience,” Anisman said, “it is to educate my students.”

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