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Arab, Muslim Fear Backlash Attacks

March 7, 2003

Anxiety over a U.S. invasion of Iraq could be fueling a small spate of backlash attacks against Arab-Americans and Muslims in the United States, advocacy groups say.

In recent incidents, attackers have beaten people they perceived to be Muslim and Arab, shouted racial slurs and scrawled ``Nuke Iraq″ on buildings, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Backlash attacks swelled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then tapered off. Though small in number, the approximately half-dozen incidents in recent weeks are the most the Council on American-Islamic Relations has heard about in months, said Hodan Hassan, a council spokeswoman.

``It seems to correspond with the increasing tension regarding a possible war with Iraq and the recent elevation of the terror alert,″ she said. ``As the rhetoric for war increases, we’re seeing a lot of talk of ’us versus them.‴

Along with physical assaults, ``people have referred to Iraq and Arabs generally, telling people to ‘go home’ or ’We’re coming over there to kick your‴ behinds, said Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The incidents have taken place in California, Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon and South Carolina, the groups say.

During the 1991 Gulf War, attacks against Arabs and Muslims rose, and advocates say they’re bracing for an increase if war breaks out.

``These hate crimes are primarily out of ignorance, and people who are ignorant believe that this war is against the Iraqis or the Arabs or the Muslims,″ said Muhannad Eshaiker, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy. ``If you ask an Iraqi, he will tell you that the war is against Saddam.″

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