Woman blogs that arrest after 9/11 flight was ethnic profiling


September 13, 2011



A woman who is half-Jewish and half-Arab says that she and two Indian Americans were detained Sunday by armed officers on an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport and then jailed and strip-searched — an incident that civil rights leaders say was one of many cases of law enforcement targeting minorities on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.


But federal officials say they were told that some passengers on board were acting suspiciously and responded accordingly.

After landing in Detroit, the Ohio woman, Shoshana Hebshi, wrote on a blog that has received national attention that she and the men were handcuffed, jailed, strip-searched and interrogated because of their ethnicities.

“They … needed to make sure all my orifices were free and clear,” Hebshi wrote.

And she said an FBI agent told her there were “50 other similar incidents across the country that day,” raising questions about whether law enforcement targeted certain groups on Sept. 11 because of their appearance.

FBI Special Agent in Charge of Detroit Andy Arena told the Free Press that the FBI did interview the woman and the men, but said: “We treated her well.”

“The FBI did not arrest anybody or direct anyone to be arrested,” Arena said Tuesday. After determining “there was no criminal or terrorist activity … they were released.”

Arena said there were other reports of suspicious activity across the U.S. on Sept 11; he added that the FBI does not profile.

The suspicious activity prompted authorities to scramble F16 jets to tail the plane while it was in the air. Upon landing, it was ordered to a remote area.

Then, “all of a sudden, a SWAT team went through … saying, ‘Please place your hands on the seat in front of you.’ ” passenger Belinda Duggan of Troy told the Associated Press.

The anniversary of Sept. 11 brought a renewed focus on terrorism, a focus that ended up scapegoating some innocent people, say Muslim leaders.

A spokesman for Frontier Airlines, Peter Kowalchuk, did not comment about whether the three passengers were singled out for their ethnic appearance, saying Frontier was “following security protocols and in response to concerns expressed by passengers on the aircraft and our flight attendants” about “the suspicious activity of two gentlemen.” He did not explain what the suspicious activity was. A spokesman for Airport Police did not return calls seeking comment.

Hebshi of Ohio said in the blog that she and two men she happened to be seated next to were detained and jailed without explanation.

“Armed officers stormed my plane, threw me in handcuffs and locked me up,” she wrote, saying that what happened to her was an example of how “in the name of patriotism we lost a lot of our liberty, especially those who look like me.”

On Twitter and blogs, many expressed concern about the way Hebshi and the men were treated. Hebshi does not provide her full name on the blog; the tweets that the blog references are similar to a Twitteraccount for Shoshana Hebshi, who has another Web site. Both sites indicate she once lived in Iowa and is an editor and writer. Attempts to reach Hebshi Tuesday were not successful. Other news media outlets that identified the woman as Hebshi also could not reach her.

Civil rights advocates say the incident — and others like it across the U.S. on Sept 11 — indicate that federal law enforcement might have profiled and questioned minorities on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It’s obvious that the FBI detained and questioned so-called suspicious looking persons due to the anniversary of 9/11,” said Dawud Walid, head of the state branch of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. “More than 300 people were questioned by the FBI over an ‘unconfirmed’ threat that there would be an attack on the anniversary. Of course, all were cleared. The search of that innocent woman, who is half Arab, and her Indian travel companions was a case of flying while ethnic-looking on 9/ 11.”

Hebshi, who describes herself as a “dark-skinned woman of Arab/Jewish heritage,” said:

“I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance.”

She added: “I was forced into a situation where I was stripped of my freedom and liberty that so many of my fellow Americans purport are the foundations of this country and should be protected at any cost.”

Hebshi posted her essay on a blog that she says tells “the stories of everyday life.”

A Detroit FBI spokeswoman, Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, said the FBI received a report of “suspicious activity” on the flight, but would not say what that activity was. A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, Jim Fotenos, did not comment on the allegations of profiling. He said the TSA “was notified of passengers allegedly behaving suspiciously.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) scrambled F16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely,” he said. Fotenos also did not explain the suspicious behavior.

After landing, Hebshi said that cops surrounded the plane and proceeded to arrest them without any explanation.

One officer grabbed her arm hard, and then “he slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.”

“The cops brought us to a parked squad car next to the plane, had us spread our legs and arms.”

Hebshi said she has never had any trouble with the law and while on the plane, “I never left my seat, spoke to anyone on the flight or tinkered with any ‘suspicious’ device.”

MI State Rep Agema sanctioning of bigots

CAIR-MI Decries Official Platform Given to Hate Group Speakers

(SOUTHFIELD, MI, 9/13/2011) ­- The Michigan
chapter of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR-MI) today expressed concern over
Michigan State Representative Dave Agema’s
(R-Grandville) endorsement of speakers who
expressed xenophobic and anti-Muslim views at a
hearing and rally at the Michigan State Capital Building today in Lansing.

Agema, who sponsored Michigan House Bill No. 4026
Occupational Code Bill, promoted views and
statistics on immigration by the Federation of
American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated
a “hate group” for its ties to White Supremacists.

FAIR: Crossing the Rubicon of Hate (SPLC)

Also testifying at the hearing and later speaking
at the rally was controversial, self-proclaimed
ex-terrorist Kamal Saleem, who has been connected
to “ex-terrorist” Walid Shoebat.

CNN recently aired a two-part series exposing Shoebat as an anti-Islam fraud.

Video: CNN Exposes Walid Shoebat’s Terror Training Scam (CAIR)
Part 1 –- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJN00dBhZVk
Part 2 — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Tzz51VYXg

SEE ALSO: USAF Pays Fake ‘Terrorism Experts” Speakers to Bash Islam?
Fake ‘Ex-Terrorist’ Wants Sharia Banned in Missouri (Loonwatch)

Saleem today asserted without empirical evidence
that undocumented immigrants are a threat to
national security and that sleeper cells are in
Michigan, an Islamophobic claim similarly made by
Agema in the context of immigration enforcement.

SEE: Is Farmworkers’ Challenge For Legislators
Supporting Strict Immigration Reform to ‘Take Our
Jobs’ Bogus? (Grand Rapids Press)

Also speaking at the rally was Oakland County
Commissioner Jim Runestad (R-Waterford).

Supporters during the hearing made racist
statements that immigrants bring diseases such as
“tuberculosis” and “bed bugs” into Michigan,
reflecting past statements of Agema relating to immigrants and disease.

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid offered
testimony at today’s hearing regarding the need
for comprehensive immigration reform at the
federal level as well as pointing out to
committee members the bias motives behind Agema’s FAIR-driven legislation.

“Instead of introducing bills that will unite us
as a state and attract investments, Agema is
introducing controversial and xenophobic
legislation,” said CAIR-MI Executive Director
Dawud Walid. “We call on Agema’s colleagues
within the state house to disassociate themselves
from bias-driven legislation and from those who promote such bizarre bills.”

Walid also noted that Agema is the sponsor of
Michigan House Bill Ho. 4679 also called an
“anti-Sharia bill,” which has been resolutely
condemned by civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and NAACP.

SEE: Detroit Legislators, Civil Rights Groups
Speak Out Against ‘anti-Sharia’ Bill (Mlive.com)

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties
and advocacy organization. Its mission is to
enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage
dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower
American Muslims, and build coalitions that
promote justice and mutual understanding.

Become a Fan of CAIR on Facebook
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CONTACT: CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid,
248-842-1418, E-Mail: dwalid@cair.com, CAIR-MI
Outreach Coordinator Raheem Hanifa, 248-559-2247, E-Mail: rhanifa@cair.com

We Need to Challenge Politics of Fear 10 Years After 9/11


We need to challenge politics of fear 10 years after 9/11
• Sun, Sep 11, 2011

By Dawud Walid

As we reflect on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, our country has the opportunity to reflect upon how far we have collectively moved away from being seen as a moral authority on civil and human rights in the world and where we need to go in the future to restore this perceived authority.

Ten years ago, the world grieved with us as we lost our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends to the most deadly terrorist attack upon American soil. Even countries and organizations that have continued to be deemed extremist — Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah — denounced the attack by Al-Qaeda as a crime against humanity and “un-Islamic.” However, much of the sympathy and empathy that we received from the world has fundamentally eroded 10 years later.

In less than two months after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed into law the U.S. Patriot Act, which provided unprecedented powers to federal law enforcement entities to surveil persons without predication of terrorism-related activities, including the expanded usage of paid informants (15,000 FBI informatns alone, according to current data) to infiltrate religious institutions and the ability to detain citizens during border reentry without charges in the name of national security.

Such powers have led to systematic abuses ranging from United State Border Patrol agents having the authority to detain and question persons — including citizens up to 100 miles from the U.S. border — without proof of criminal activity and anti-war activists having their homes raided and being served with grand jury subpoenas due to their lawful political expressions to citizens being placed on the no-fly list while being overseas, then being barred from flying home to their own country, America.

Besides problematic laws such as the Patriot Act being instituted post-9/11, a growing cottage industry of Islamophobes has shaped the political discourse in our nation and has influenced policy makers at the highest levels of government.

The Center for American Progress recently documented that some of the top Islamophobes have received up to $43 million dollars of funding from conservative foundations, not including other donations and honorariums, in which these same bigots have met with top federal law enforcement officials, testified in congressional hearings about American Muslims and the need to erode civil liberties more in the name of national security and even trained FBI and Homeland Security agents.

The increase in domestic abuses coupled with the culmination of reports such as the high levels of civilian casualties, labeled “collateral damage,” in the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and de facto war in the Waziristan area of Pakistan by American military personnel along with CIA drones and the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp have severely tarnished our reputation abroad.

Thus, even with President Obama giving speeches with much fanfare in Egypt, Ghana and Turkey about America’s commitment to human rights and our stated desire to “partner with the developing world,” polls such as a recent report released by the Arab American Institue show that America’s approval rating around the globe is at a record low.

While some Tea Party politicians and acolytes clamor about “taking America back” — meaning turning the clock back to the pre-civil rights movement era — we must be bold enough as Americans to stand up for the spirit of civil and human rights, be more vocal in confronting systemic bigotry and offer solutions to contemporary problems before some misguided souls push us toward the brink of fascism.

This starts with the awareness that many laws and policies that were basically shaped to confront Muslims who were deemed national security threats did not stop with Muslims, but has adversely impacted all American’s constitutional rights.

We need to continue to raise concerns about problematic provisions within the Patriot Act and call out unabashedly racist and xenophobic political rhetoric. Moreover, despite it being uncomfortable, we need to engage as a nation in intellectually honest national discussion about why most of the world is not fond of America and what are the root causes of the despicable disease of international terrorism, besides fear-mongering and Mickey Mouse explanations such as extremists attack us because “they hate us because of our freedoms” that have led our nation into unjust military conflicts.

As we remember those who were lost in the tragedy of 9/11, who we cannot bring back, let us be resolute in bringing back what we can, which is the American spirit of striving toward making our nation “a more perfect union” by ensuring “liberty and justice for all,” while standing against the politics of fear.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI)


Islamic Leaders Convene in Dearborn to Remember 9/11, Condemn Terrorism



Leaders from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan held a press conference Sunday morning at the Islamic Center of America.

Islamic leaders from multiple local organizations and mosques met Sunday morning in Dearborn to publicly recognize the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, as well as to stand against terrorism.

Standing on the steps of the Islamic Center of America, they sent a message that Islam is not about terror, but about building bridges within the communities in which they live, work and worship. The event brought together imams from Canton, Rochester Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, Hamtramck, Dearborn Heights and Dearborn.

“Our imams are here today to stand up with fellow Americans against all forms of extremism and terrorism,” said Victor Ghalib Begg, founder of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan and co-founder of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit. “Muslims have been victims, but the latest Gallup poll shows that they have been loyal to this country.”

Several imams spoke about their sympathy for the families of the men and women lost 10 years ago to the 9/11 attacks.

“We come here this morning to remember the precious lives lost 10 years ago to an evil attack on 9/11 and send our prayers to those who lost loved ones,” said Imam Aly Lela of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, located in Rochester Hills. “As American citizens, we need to use this 10th anniversary to confirm our unity. It’s what defines us. One nation, moving forward despite the challenges we are all facing.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid also used the opportunity to speak out publicly against the anti-religious law bill currently up for debate in the Michigan House of Representatives, which he said he sees as an example of political anti-Islamic sentiment that has been largely focused on Dearborn and metro Detroit.

“People who are outside the state of Michigan have come here to stir up problems and it has reflected itself in many different ways, including outsiders trying to introduce–through a state leader here–anti-Sharia legislation,” Walid said.

“Dearborn has been made a target of the anti-Muslim movement in America.”

Despite negative attacks on the area from outside sources, Begg said that he hopes all religious, cultural and political leaders will use the reflection of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to come together peacefully.

“(Muslims) are part of America,” he said. “We are not against things. We are for a better America, less divisions. This is a time we come together to move forward.”

Groups Fight Bias


Published: Friday, September 9, 2011

By J. Patrick Pepper
Press & Guide Newspapers


DEARBORN/DEARBORN HEIGHTS — As a 747 ripped through the North Tower of the World Trade Center 10 years ago today, Imad Hamad was 30,000 feet in the air.

Hamad, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination, was on his way to Washington D.C. to meet with federal officials about ethnic profiling of Arabs at United States airports, one of the preeminent civil rights issues facing Arabs at the time.

As the plane approached its final destination the pilot got on the intercom and announced that a “traffic jam” was causing congestion at Reagan National Airport, so the flight was being diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport.

“The pilot said there would be shuttles there waiting for us to take us to our destinations,” Hamad said. “At that point everyone thought it was pretty much a joke.”

Shortly thereafter, the pilot took to the intercom again. The laughs stopped.

“He said our nation is under attack and everybody was just in shock. Everybody started looking around, trying to get a cell phone signal to get more news. And all of the sudden, I realized I was the center of attention, the person everyone was looking at like ‘what do I have inside me?,’” said Hamad.

The suspicious looks were before Al-Qaeda had even laid claim to the horrific attacks, but it was a harbinger of things to come for both Hamad and Arabs in America.

Hamad ended up spending the next week working out of ADC’s national headquarters, where he experienced a city in chaos like he had never before seen it. People were despondent, police and military personnel were everywhere, and the cradle of Western democracy was shaken to its core.

After the hectic week ended, he boarded a flight headed back to Detroit. He took his aisle seat in the two-seat row and then the person with the seat next to him walked in.

She began carefully looking at Hamad, he said, and then asked if he would switch seats with her. Hamad obliged.

“She looked over at me and kind of broke the ice, asking me where I was from,” he said. “I asked her if she was sure if she wanted to know, because I am from a place that is very famous right now, the Middle East, and I could see the shock on her face.”

The shock abated, though, and the two ended up striking up a conversation that lasted for much of the flight.

When the plane landed and passengers ambled out, some were making comments as they passed Hamad expressing relief that there were no terrorist hijackers on the plane. As he sat there, the woman he had talked with made a gesture that would leave a lasting mark on him.

“I was in disbelief and I was hurt like everyone else was and she just stood up and hugged me and said it was nice meeting me and wished me the best,” Hamad said.

In this episode, Hamad saw the good and bad of what would happen with American-Arab relations in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, landscape: the suspicions would be greater and the prejudices stronger, but with dialogue and understanding common bonds can be found.

Now 10 years later, Hamad continues working to change perceptions and build bridges, but the issues he now faces are vastly different than those prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and even those in the immediate aftermaths of the attacks.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, ADC handled about 200-300 cases per year mostly on employment-related discrimination issues, according to Hamad, who has led the organization since 1997.

That figure ballooned to more than 600 cases in the years following Sept. 11, 2001, and the scope of the issues became more diverse.

When it came to the discrimination, Hamad said, the attitude became “So what?”

“Before 9/11, people that we approached about discrimination issues usually were unaware and they wanted to try to fix the problem, but after it just kind of became something that people would openly admit,” he said.

It’s a struggle that continues today for Arabs and Arab-Muslims, but one that is evolving.

Dawud Walid was named executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan at almost the halfway-point of the decade since Sept. 11, 2001.

It was July 7, 2005, the day a group of Pakistani Muslims simultaneously detonated suicide bombs in the London subway system, killing 52 and injuring hundreds. He immediately found himself thrust into a public relations offensive, led by a press conference with other local Muslim leaders at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

It was moments like these that Walid knew he would have to step into, with a mission to craft a message of both condemnation of the acts but also dissociation of Islamic extremists with Muslims as a whole.

“Muslims have been de facto discriminated against because of actors like this (the subway bombers) and we have been put into a position of defending ourselves against things we have no connection to,” Walid said.

Pre-Sept. 11, 2001, both Walid and Hamad said the cases their organizations dealt with were primarily involving discrimination by private organizations and individuals. Since then, there has been a big shift toward governmental discrimination.

National security agencies became a fixture in Middle Eastern communities throughout the country, and in heavily Arab Dearborn, the effects were myriad. Paid informants infiltrated mosques, Arabs and Muslims were detained only to have cases thrown out, and general distrust of the government among Middle Easterners became rampant.

“There was definitely a chilling effect in mosques, in schools, and in the community as a whole,” Walid said of the government surveillance.

ADC and CAIR have made inroads with these federal agencies, said Walid and Hamad, with things like stakeholder forums and discussion groups.

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold acknowledged the unease, but said it seems to be getting better.

“They (Muslims/Arabs) are not hesitant to call us anymore and tell us their concerns,” she said. “And Special Agent (Andrew) Arena (leader of the FBI Detroit field office) has met tirelessly with leaders of the community to hear their concerns, going to dinners and forums and things like that.”

And while the governmental relations have made strides there is a new battle to fight, said the Arab and Muslim civil rights leaders: politicized Islamophobia.

Starting largely in 2008, there has been a growing trend of Republican politicians questioning Muslim loyalty to the United States and the focus has often turned back to Dearborn.

A U.S. Senate candidate from Nevada said during a campaign stop in 2010 that Dearborn was under Shari’a law. a notion that parroted by GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker.

“What we’re seeing is a mainstreaming of Islamophobia,” Walid said. “It poses a difficult challenge when you have people that are leaders making these kinds of statements.”

Hamad echoed Walid’s assessment.

“The struggle definitely isn’t over,” he said. “In fact, I only see it becoming more difficult.”

‘It felt like the world stopped’: As the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, the Muslim community reflects on a decade of change


‘It felt like the world stopped’: As the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, the Muslim community reflects on a decade of change

Published: Thursday, September 08, 2011, 11:00 AM     Updated: Thursday, September 08, 2011, 11:41 AM
By Kayla Hmbermehl – The Flint Journal

GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan — Muna Jondy was watching cartoons on her birthday with her daughter in her apartment in Winnipeg in Canada.

In Flint, Maryum Rasool was about to start training for her first job after graduating from college.

Abed Khirfan was in his Flint Township financial office, getting ready for the work day.

And in the dental clinic at the University of Detroit, Niman Shukairy was treating patients.

In the midst of a normal morning, out of a clear, blue sky, the first plane struck one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Like millions of other Americans, Jondy, Rasool, Khirfan and Shukairy became glued to their televisions, watching in horror as a second plane hit the other tower.

“It felt like the world stopped,” Khirfan said.

But none immediately realized the ripple effect that Sept. 11, 2001 would soon have on their religion.

“It was the first time as an American-born Muslim and American that I really felt outside and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling,” said Jondy, now 35 and a Flint lawyer.

A rising trend

The day after the 2001 attacks, a local pastor was at the doors to the Flint Islamic Center’s mosque in Clayton Township, holding flowers and offering support, said Jondy, who drove back to Flint a week after the attacks.

In Flint, several of Khirfan’s clients called to make sure he was OK. And at about 3 a.m. on Sept. 12, Rasool received word that a friend who worked in the World Trade Center was safe.

But as the nation grieved and details of the attackers began to emerge, shades of gray began to disappear.

Some who may have held a neutral opinion about Muslims began to change their minds — some becoming anti-Muslim, others becoming curious, Jondy said.

The Flint Islamic Center considered hosting a candlelight vigil after the attacks but decided against it because of safety concerns.

“That’s the one thing I’m angry about … we didn’t have a time to (grieve),” Jondy said. “It was too late, my country was done grieving and now it was (time to act).”

Muslims felt they had to immediately differentiate themselves from those who committed the attacks.

“We had to put our religion on defense and defend our identity as Americans,” said Khirfan, 48.

The sting of Islamophobia and discrimination became more tangible for many Muslims, said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Southfield-based Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Right after 9-11, there was a collective fear in our society. As Americans, we all were nervous about a potential second attack but as it pertains to Muslims, we also were concerned about people taking unfair retaliation against American Muslims,” Walid said. “The long-term effect we’re seeing is the mainstreaming of Islamophobia in the American socio-political discourse.”

A decade later, the crimes committed by the 19 terrorists in the name of Islam have continued to plague the Muslim-American community, Jondy said.

“I think there is more hate than before,” she said. “I don’t ever feel like I’m going to get attacked (but) I would say it’s more an attack on my dignity than on my physical well-being.”

Opening up

To combat stereotypes about their religion, the Muslim-American community has had to engage in a campaign of openness, Jondy said.

The Islamic Center now holds open houses once every few months. Before the attacks, the open houses were 18 months apart, Jondy said.

Members are reaching out more, too. Rather than simply inviting church groups and advertising in the newspaper about the open houses, members of the Muslim community now invite neighbors, friends and coworkers individually in an attempt to foster conversation, Jondy said.

“We try to build bridges with the local community,” said Shukairy, 36, a Flushing-based dentist and secretary of the management board at the Islamic Center, one of three mosques in Genesee County. “That’s something we try to work on, to open the mosque to anybody who wants to come in.”

The U.S. Census does not track religious groups, but Shukairy estimates there are about 400 Muslim families in the Flint area.

Attendance at the open houses usually ranges from about 100 to 200 people, Khirfan said.

“(Before Sept. 11) we didn’t bother anybody, we didn’t have a problem with anybody. We figured it would be good enough,” he said. “After 9-11, when people started to define Islam to us, we realized we’re not doing a good enough job.”

Discrimination, opposition to the building of mosques and community centers and tangles with federal law enforcement elsewhere have marked the past decade as well, Walid said.

“We’re living in a society based on the rule of law and order but it appears … federal law enforcement agencies have a standard for Muslims and a standard for everyone else,” he said. “A lot of my constituents have said, ‘We didn’t emigrate from Egypt or Syria to have American law enforcement treat us the same as the secret police treated us back in our mother countries.’”

That suspicion is hurtful to many Muslims. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 32 Muslims died in the attack, with one of the deaths unconfirmed.

Despite the changes since Sept. 11, Rasool believes there will soon be an end to the fear.

“We just have to bring people out of the mob mentality, just educate them,” she said. “Look, we’re not crazy. I’m your neighbor, I’m your cousin, I’m your brother, I’m your sister. You know, I’m the same person I was before.”

Local Arabs, Face Challenges, Scrutiny


Last Updated: September 09. 2011 1:00AM

Local Arabs, Muslims face changes, challenges

Since attacks, many believe they are more scrutinized, grapple with discrimination and stress

Oralandar Brand-Williams/ The Detroit News


Hours after the horrific 9/11 attacks, local Arab and Muslim families cowered in their basements.

They were fearful of reprisals since the men who attacked the World Trade Center with commandeered commercial jets and hijacked two other ill-fated flights were Arabs and Muslims.

Victor Begg, the co-founder of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, remembered getting a call about the attacks that morning 10 years ago.

“My first reaction is, ‘God, let it not be Muslims,'” said Begg of Bloomfield Hills. “Unfortunately, that’s what it turned out to be.”

In the decade since, the local Arab-American and Muslim community, one of the largest and oldest in America, has experienced changes. There are roughly 220,000 Arab-Americans and roughly 185,000 Muslims in the region.

Some say a new kind of “normal” has replaced life before Muslim extremists drove planes into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

For Livonia resident Celena Khatib, the past decade has brought about a greater sense of being different.

Khatib, who is Palestinian-American and Muslim, said she feels Muslims are under more scrutiny.

“People’s attitudes toward Muslims have changed,” said Khatib, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom and community activist who wears a hijab. “I think people are more cautious around me.”

Since the attacks, Khatib has married and is now a mother to three young children. She said she is more nervous now in public because of her kids.

“I don’t know if someone is going to say something, and if they do how do I explain it to my children,” Khatib said. “All this hate that’s going on … I get worried if someone will try to take matters into their own hands.”

Khatib is not alone in her concerns. In a Gallup Poll conducted in advance of the 10th anniversary of the attacks, nearly half of Muslims surveyed said they had “personally experienced racial or religious discrimination” in the past year.

For Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, a resident at Sinai Grace Hospital and a Muslim, some of the suspicions really provide an opportunity to show other Americans that Muslims want to “protect, honor and defend this country” as much as anyone.

“It has almost forced us expeditiously and critically to assess who we are and what is our meaning for this country,” the 28-year-old doctor said. “It’s a great time to be an American and a Muslim because our story is being told. We’re being watched and we’re being heard.”

Shortly after the attacks, local interfaith groups worked to build bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims. But, two years ago, those ties were set back and local Muslims were again forced to defend their faith after 23-year-old Nigerian-born Muslim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight over the skies of Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Begg and others say there is an anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the nation cloaked in bills introduced in 25 states to ignite and stoke anti-Islamic bigotry.

“Islamaphobia has increased part because of extreme rhetoric and this silly argument about Sharia,” Begg said. “In 2011, we’re facing things we didn’t face at that time.” Sharia is Islamic law as derived from the Quran and the traditions of Islam.

Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR-Michigan, said the area has become a “punching bag” for anti-Islamic extremists.

“The Westboro Church, Terry Jones and Rabbi Nachum Shifren have come here and stirred up trouble and animosity against Muslims,” Walid said.

University of Michigan-Dearborn professor Sally Howell said the national backlash against Arabs and Muslims has resulted in stepped-up surveillance in Metro Detroit. Immediately after the attacks, the U.S. government treated Arab- Americans and Muslims “as though they were a threat to society,” said Howell, who is a co-editor of the book “Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade.”

In the past decade, the federal government has stepped up its efforts to root out terrorists through legal powers, emboldened by the USA Patriot Act, which bolstered surveillance and arrest powers.

“This has been really stressful for the Muslim community,” said Howell, assistant professor of history at the Center for Arab-American Studies at U-M Dearborn.

The government has played a role in perpetuating stereotypes of the Muslims as a national security threat, Howell said, by referring to some of those arrested in Metro Detroit for crimes unrelated to terrorism as belonging to “terrorist cells.” Most of the charges against those arrested were dropped.

“The backlash has really had consequences for Detroit,” she said. Howell said thankfully the area’s interfaith community has stepped up to show the nation and other that Muslims and non-Muslims get along well.

“You have the interfaith community really coming out to say, ‘Muslims are a part of us. Leave us alone. Take your bigotry elsewhere’,” she said. “To me that represents Detroit.”