Fighting hate, some reach out to beleaguered communities
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For the first three days after the terrorist attacks, the Kabul Restaurant in suburban San Carlos was a lonely place.
“Almost nobody here. It’s completely dead, zero,” said co-owner Bashir Ahmad, who named the restaurant after the capital of his native country, Afghanistan.
On the fourth night, something extraordinary happened. The place was packed.
“Almost 300 people show up. All my regulars, people I haven’t seen in a long time. They say, you guys not the ones that did whatever happened in New York. You guys just like us,” said Ahmad. “They all supported us.”
Hate crimes are being reported around the country against Arab-Americans and people mistaken for Arab-Americans. But kindness is on the rise, too.
“It feels so good. A little safer,” said Hamayoun Khamosh, who’s seen an increase in non-Arab customers coming to his Pamir Food Mart in Fremont, an east San Francisco Bay suburb.
At the University of Michigan, graduate student Lisa Levin called on non-Muslim women on campus to wear a hijab — the Islamic head scarf worn by some Muslim women — in a show of support Friday.
The gesture wasn’t free of controversy. Some associated the hijab with the subjugation of women; others questioned whether it was sacrilegious for non-Muslims to wear it. Levin, who is Jewish, had the support of a Muslim student group that helped organize the event and was recommending that women uncomfortable with the hijab wear wristbands instead.
“The way I look at it is, we are standing up for the right to express yourself the way you want to without the fear of being persecuted,” said Levin, a student in the school of social work.
Some of the shows of support have come in direct response to hostile attacks.
In Palo Alto, south of San Francisco, a bunch of flowers and a letter of support were left at a pizza parlor after its Afghan-American owner was attacked by three teen-agers and shoved to the ground.
In Anchorage, Alaska, offers of help poured in after vandals attacked Syrian-American Mike Maad’s Frontier Printing Services last Saturday, smashing machines and spraying “We hate Arabs” across one wall.
Churches took up collections, the painter’s union offered to paint the place for free, and a fund was created called “Not in Our Town.”
“I feel that all the good in the community is coming forth,” said Susan Churchill, executive director of Bridge Builders, a group promoting multicultural understanding of which Maad is vice president. “People are, instead of just sitting back watching and saying, ‘I should,’ they’re trying to act.”
Web developer Douglas R. Steen heard reports of violence against Arab-Americans and decided to create a Web site inviting people to sign a “Stop the Hate” pledge, “not to hold responsible innocent Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs and others, who are just as horrified as I am.”
“I felt like this was something that I could do to help heal the country. Just a little something, but something,” said Steen, who lives in Boulder, Colo.
In San Carlos, 51-year-old Ahmad thought Sept. 11 might be the end of everything.
Ahmad left Afghanistan for the United States 25 years ago because “I know I can be somebody here.”
Like other Americans, he watched and wept as the World Trade Center towers crumbled under a swift and pitiless attack. “I hope they catch them and they punish them,” he said of those who plotted the attacks.
Then he heard the suspected mastermind was Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, believed to be living in Afghanistan. He figured the restaurant he and fellow Afghani immigrant Hakim Rahimi had named after their former capital, Kabul, was finished.
And for a while it looked as though he was right.
“Thank God, the American people, they all show up on Friday night and support us,” he said. “It’s very good now.”
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