For Muslims, a fear of what lies off campus

Muslim and Arab students say they feel safe at Yale but worry about venturing out into New Haven, particularly after the surge of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence and hostility nationwide that followed last week’s terrorist attacks.

Yale administrators and police have worked hard to maintain a sense of security, as have Arab, Muslim and South Asian students on campus. But even at Yale, where harassment has remained at a minimum, one Palestinian professor reported receiving a significant number of threatening e-mails.

On Sept. 11, the day of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, international students received an e-mail from the Office of International Students and Scholars warning that the tragedy could “provoke intense emotion in many Americans.”

At a candlelight vigil held on Cross Campus that evening, Yale President Richard Levin moved quickly to head off any possible violence.

“We should remember that it was the work of individuals — not the work of a people, a race or a unified nation,” Levin said in an address to the thousands of students and faculty gathered before him.

In addition to the official response, about 35 Arab, Muslim and South Asian volunteers are organizing a network to address safety concerns and provide an outlet for discussion of recent events.

“It’s just a resource for the community and a vehicle for the community to come together during this time when people are upset or even outraged about what happened and also are concerned about their safety on campus and in New Haven,” said Gregory Khalil LAW ’02, one of the network’s organizers.

All of these efforts appear to be having the desired effect on campus.

“I’ve actually received an enormous amount of love mail, especially within the community of faith and the community of color,” said Sarah Izfar ’03, president of the Muslim Students Association. “I honestly don’t think anything horrible would ever happen at Yale, because people here are very open-minded.”

Yale Police Chief James Perrotti said his department has received no reports of any attacks or harassment within its jurisdiction, which includes the campus and surrounding areas.

“I think the word about tolerance has really gone a long way,” Perrotti said.

But moving more than a block or two away from Yale evokes a very different reaction from Arab or Muslim students, particularly those who can be identified as such by their clothes or the color of their skin.

“I’m feeling safe on campus, however outside there have been a lot of friends of mine that have been affected, very, very close by,” Waleed Ziad ’02 said, adding that he particularly worries about his sister, a Yale graduate student who, he said, “respects the traditional modes of dress, which are very conspicuous.”

Nationwide, mosques have been fired upon, and Arab-owned businesses have been burned. Most notably, the FBI is investigating the deaths of a Sikh man in Arizona and two Arabs — one a Christian — as possible hate crimes. Sikhs have become particular targets for attacks because of the turbans mandated by their religion, which is distinct from both Islam and Hinduism.

Elected officials, including Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland and President George W. Bush ’68, have condemned harassment and assaults on Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians.

Less serious but still unsettling incidents have occurred in Connecticut, including the vandalism of an Arab-owned store in Stamford and several cases of verbal and e-mail harassment reported by the media in New Haven.

Yale genetics professor Mazim Qumsiyeh, one of the founders of the New Haven-based organization Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, said he has received an increased number of threatening e-mails after he was quoted in the New Haven Register last Wednesday, even though he condemned the attacks.

“If this is Palestinians again, I blame Israel for not wiping the lowlife animals off this Earth 10 months ago. Now America will have the dirty job,” Qumsiyeh quoted from the e-mail.

Another he received said, “I feel that you guys should be eliminated.”

But Qumsiyeh said he does not generally fear for his safety in New Haven.

“I feel worried about the future, but not necessarily unsafe at this point,” he said.

New Haven police spokeswoman Judith Mongillo said the department has received only one report of a possible anti-Muslim or anti-Arab “disturbance,” between a customer and employee of a business, which was referred to the NHPD’s bias and hate crimes unit for investigation. She also said the department is maintaining surveillance of locations that could be targets for retaliation.

“In terms of our response, we’re taking the necessary precautions to give the appropriate attention to places like mosques, synagogues and cemeteries,” Mongillo said.

A Muslim worshipper holds an American flag during a service at the Southern Islamic Center in Los Angeles. Threats against Muslim Americans have risen steadily since Sept. 11's terror attacks.
AFP
A Muslim worshipper holds an American flag during a service at the Southern Islamic Center in Los Angeles. Threats against Muslim Americans have risen steadily since Sept. 11's terror attacks.

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