Arab merchant, students threatened after terrorist attacks

Megan Boldt

Majdi Wadi has never worried about much more than keeping his shelves stocked and customers happy at Holy Land, his Northeast Minneapolis food market.

But at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday, the calm that prevailed at his store for 12 years lifted. The phone rang.

“The caller said, ‘You fucking Muslim people. You’re all going to die today. Why don’t you go back to your own country,'” Wadi said Wednesday. “They said some horrible things.”

The caller phoned back several times, and Wadi called the police.

Speculation that the blame for Tuesday’s attacks lies with a Mideast terrorist group lead by Osama bin Laden enrages many American citizens.

And some University-area residents of Arab descent say they have been threatened, like Wadi, or feel uncomfortable outside their homes.

The Arab Student Association received threatening messages on its answering machine Wednesday.

Some Arab students have been called “terrorists” or cursed at on campus. Many received dirty looks or stares, said Ayman A. Balshe, a University first-year dental student.

“We condemn what happened on Tuesday and offer our deepest condolences to the victims,” he said. “At the same time we are trying to stay safe.”

Balshe said nothing serious has happened yet, but ASA along with Minnesota International Student Association, is advising Arab students to stay safe, not walk alone and call police if they feel unsafe.

Despite Balshe’s and others’ concerns, many students and residents say they don’t view those of Arabic descent any differently.

Wade Haviland, a junior speech-communications major, said that although he is upset and shocked by the attacks, he’s not jumping to any conclusions as to who is responsible.

And even if a Mideast terrorist group did perpetuate the attacks, he said, no one should punish the University-area Arab community.

“I don’t see anyone doing this,” Haviland said. “It’s not a problem. And it shouldn’t be.”

Justin Selb, 20, agreed.

Selb said he has a gut feeling terrorist bin Laden – who has been given asylum by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers – is behind the attacks. But even so, he doesn’t feel resentment toward the Arab community as a whole.

The University offers counseling services for students who are experiencing anything from pain to fear.

Ora Mae Mitchell, a Boynton Health Service counselor, said the hospital hadn’t received any calls from students being harassed.

“It’s early,” she said. “I think people are still processing the gravity of the situation.”

If anyone does feel threatened, Mitchell said the counseling services would first make sure the person feels safe. Then counselors would encourage callers to report any harassment to University police or their academic departments.

University police had not received any reports of threats or violence as of Wednesday.

But Balshe, along with other students, still remains unnerved. He said it makes him nervous to have a Palestinian sticker on his vehicle.

“I’ve been thinking about removing it, just to be safe,” Balshe said.

Wadi said Tuesday’s death threats were disturbing, but they didn’t shake him. He wouldn’t let them.

He did close his shop at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but not because he was afraid. He and his family went to the mosque to pray for the victims.

And he received more phone calls Wednesday, but they weren’t threats. Neighbors called with words of support. Some even stopped by with flowers.

Although Wadi said although the cowardly attackers destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers – killing thousands of people – the terrorists did not accomplish their mission.

“Their mission was to destroy a united people,” Wadi said. “They didn’t destroy what’s inside of us, Americans.”

 

Megan Boldt welcomes comments at [email protected]