Immigrant and Muslim communities prepare for discrimination

WJoe Mahon With war in Iraq under way, immigrant and Muslim communities are preparing to deal with hate crimes and discrimination.

No incidents have been reported yet, according to several immigrant community groups and the FBI.

The bureau issued a bulletin to police March 12 warning of a possible hate crime surge.

“War with Iraq or a terrorist incident is likely to precipitate a similar increase in crimes against Arab-Americans,” the FBI bulletin said, referring to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, anti-Muslim backlash.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, crimes surged nationwide against Muslims, Arabs and people who appear to be from the Middle East.

Incidents at the time included murders, as well as arson against mosques and community centers. Locally, Arab and Muslim organizations and businesses received threats after the New York and Washington attacks, and vandals damaged Arab-owned Dinkytown Tobacco.

Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a “Muslim community safety kit” offering advice on dealing with violence or discrimination.

“I think there’s a certain fear in the community about reporting problems to authorities,” said Jill Joseph, CAIR Minnesota’s communications officer.

Recent police activities have intensified the fear, Joseph said, especially the required registration of Arab males with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“It wasn’t a very smooth process,” Joseph said of the registration. CAIR’s safety kit is in part an attempt to deal with this fear.

Ayman Balshe, adviser and spokesman for the University’s Arab Student Association, said he is not very worried about attacks by citizens.

“Right now the situation is different then after Sept. 11 (2001)” because there has been no attack on the United States, Balshe said.

“The fear is from the government, the FBI, and not the people; the community has been very supportive,” Balshe said.

He too said he is concerned about immigrant registration, which he said singles out Arabs, and he said he fears FBI harassment.

However, he also said local police have been mostly supportive.

Osman Sahardeed, of the Somali Community of Minnesota, said he is not as concerned about harassment by authorities.

“We have a good connection with the FBI right now,” he said.

While he is somewhat concerned about Somalis being singled out for their faith – women wearing the Hajab head scarf, for example – he takes the fact that no incidents have occurred yet as a good sign and hopes it will continue.

“These are random things,” Sahardeed said. “We’re telling our people to stay away from alleys and be vigilant.”

Joe Mahon covers campus neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]