Arab-Americans resent abuse because of bombing suspects


NEW YORK -- When Osama Husseini turned 18 and became a U.S. citizen, he changed his name to Samuel Hennessy so he could "pass as an American."

As a youngster growing up in Queens, he avoided questions about his ethnicity. His father, a Palestinian, and his mother, a Jordanian, came here when the child was 5. By the way, like a lot of Palestinian-Americans, they are Christians.

Today, at 27, he goes by Sam Husseini, and has made peace with his heritage. He is the Middle East expert at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Since the Feb. 26 World Trade Center bombing, Mr. Husseini has been monitoring television, newspapers and magazines for anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bias.

"The perception is that all Arabs are Muslim, all Muslims are fundamentalists and all fundamentalists are terrorists," he said. "And none of those links is correct."

Arab-Americans, Arab immigrants and Muslims of all persuasions say they have become targets for abuse because the suspects in the bombing are Muslim Arabs.

Even before last month's blast, many Muslims had a sense of dread. "For years, Communists were our chief villains," said Cedric McClester, an African-American Muslim. "But with the fall of communism, Islam became a convenient target."

Even the New York Times could not resist describing suspect Mohammed Salameh's "beakish nose." (Some observers questioned whether the paper would dare mention a Jewish suspect's "beakish nose." Or a black suspect's "thick lips." Or a "slant-eyed" Asian suspect.)

New York City's Muslim community, which says it is 800,000 strong, is outraged over the protest that Bronx Rabbi Avi Weiss held at the Jersey City, N.J., mosque where Mr. Salameh worshiped. Muslims say this was like picketing St. Patrick's Cathedral because Irish Republican Army members prayed there.

"When Mr. Michael Milken stole millions of dollars from Wall Street, no one said, 'Ah! A Jewish connection,' " said Ghazi Khankan, an Arab-American radio personality.

The number of hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims jumped 800 percent during the Persian Gulf War, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which fears a new outbreak.

"We also don't want to see the government use this as a pretext to begin unwarranted investigations into the Arab community, as was done during the Gulf War," said Albert Mokhiber, committee president.

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