Hate Crimes
Sept. 30, 2001

The fear of a backlash cuts across several immigrant communities in the United States after reports that one Sikh in a Phoenix, Arizona, suburb and one Pakistani in Dallas, Texas, have been killed in what the police suspect could be hate crimes.
Anger against the people who perpetrated the attacks on the United States last week is now spilling out in some places, and much of the anger is directed at Arab-Americans, Muslims and South Asians, some of whom look like those believed to have carried out the attacks.


From across the country, there are stories from people who feel targeted. People such as Sean Fernandes of San Francisco, California, who came to the United States from India. He was severely beaten up and saw his friend Robin stabbed by a gang of young men who called Fernandes a racial epithet.

Amrik Singh Chawla, a turbaned Sikh was chased into a subway station by a group of young men who called him a "terrorist" and threatened to kill him.

Reem Fadel is a doctor from Egypt who married an Arab-American, Mohammad. They live in Battery Sea Park, just three blocks from the World Trade Center. On September 11, she was walking toward the towers with her 6-year-old daughter when one of the planes flew into the building. Seeing this attack was traumatic, but she said the days that followed have been even more so. Reem, who wears the traditional Muslim head scarf, said, "People on the streets keep staring at me now. And yesterday a man on the train was very rude to my daughter. I am now quite scared for our lives." Her husband, Mohammad, said he wants other Americans to understand that as a Muslim, he condemns terrorism as much as anybody else. And that Islam does not condone such acts.

Community leaders said attacks of this kind have been by and large restricted to verbal abuse, but they must be taken seriously.

"My first reaction was to say, 'Let's not overreact if a few Sikhs, Muslims or Hindus in the country have been pushed around or roughed up,' " said Sreenath Srinivasan of the South Asian Journalists Association. "After all, the death toll at the World Trade Center was just so huge. But things changed dramatically for me when Balbir Singh Sodhi got killed." Sodhi, a native of India and a practitioner of the Sikh faith, owned a gas station in suburban Phoenix. He had been receiving threatening calls from somebody who blamed Sodhi's community for the September 11 attacks. And then, a masked gunman entered his gas station and shot him dead. Investigators said no money had been taken. They are working on the premise it was a racially motivated crime. The county attorney said Sodhi was shot "for no other apparent reason than that he was dark-skinned and wore a turban."

Then on September 16, a grocer of Pakistani origin, Waqar Hasan, was found dead with gunshot wounds in Dallas, a killing that police are investigating as a hate crime.
News of the two deaths have fueled fears among people in the Arab and South Asian communities.

Manjeet Singh, a New York taxi driver, said he's scared he will be attacked. He said his turban could easily be mistaken for the turban of Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, who has been identified as a prime suspect. Singh is passing out fliers to people in New York and New Jersey, explaining that Sikhs are unrelated to bin Laden and his followers. For good measure, he also explains that Sikhs are different from Muslims although he does say both communities are peace-loving.

Community leaders are looking for help on two fronts. First, they said, the Bush administration and local authorities must educate people that last week's acts of terror cannot be blamed on Islam or any other faith. They said President Bush's Monday visit to a mosque in Washington was a powerful message in that direction. But they also said security and police vigilance against such hate crimes must be stepped up in the next few weeks.

"We've lost so many in the attacks of September 11," said Jayant Kalotra, a Sikh leader in Washington, "We must prevent any further loss of life. We can't afford any more crimes of hate."

 
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