Arab-Americans say harassment, bias still linger

May 05, 1991|By Arch Parsons | Arch Parsons,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The backlash in this country agains Arab-Americans as a result of the Persian Gulf war has subsided but not ended, Arab-Americans and others said yesterday.

The harassment of Arab-Americans at airports and on passenger flights within the United States "hasn't stopped," ACLU attorney Eileen Hershenov told about 250 people who attended a panel discussion at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's national convention.

There have probably been a "half-dozen to a dozen" instances, perhaps more, that have not come to the surface, she said, and she asked anyone in the audience who knew of one to come forward. Later, about a dozen did, testifying to Ms. Hershenov in private.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit against Pan American World Airways on behalf of one Arab-American and the ADC, the attorney said.

Albert Mokhiber, president of the 25,000-member ADC, said five "hate crimes" against Arab-Americans were committed from January to August last year and 48 were committed between August and the end of 1990, but during January 1991, when the war was in progress, there were more than 60. Now, he said, "we're back to the pre-war situation where you get one or two a month."

Arab-Americans are "out of the immediate danger zone that they found themselves in during the war," Mr. Mokhiber said, but he added: "There is still the residual effect. A lot of hate was whipped up, a lot of hysteria, a lot of stereotyping. These ideas don't go away so quickly."

Problems still exist for Arab-American children in schools, he said. "They're being told that all Arabs are terrorists," he said. "How do you deal with it when your child comes home and says, 'Mommy, Mommy, I don't want to be an Arab. The Arabs are the bad guys.' "

The ADC president estimated that there are between 2.5 million and 3 million Arab-Americans in the United States. "The reason we estimate is because we have a problem convincing the Census Bureau to include us," he said. "It seems to us to be a another form of subtle discrimination, because there are other ethnic groups that are included that are far smaller than we are and far more recent 'Americans' than we are."

Unlike Hispanic Americans, there is no "Arab-American" designation in the census. Arab-Americans are listed as either "white" or "other."

Mr. Mokhiber, a fourth-generation American of Lebanese extraction, said that Arab-Americans have "just begun organizing ourselves politically in the last 10 to 15 years. But that's growing. We're optimistic.

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