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
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."