Cleveland's Arab-American community has been the target of some of the anger generated by the tragedies of last week. There have been several reports of general harassment and vandalism, a firebombing at a Bedford Gurdwaras, or Sihk place of Worship, and last night a car slammed through the entrance of the Grand Mosque in Parma. Arab-Americans are pleading with the community not to link them with the senseless acts of a few Muslim fanatics, and community leaders are backing them up. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- Early Monday morning Imam Fawaz Damra was awakened by a phone call from the Parma Police Department, who told him there had been an act of vandalism at the Grand Mosque. When he arrived he found devastation - a car had slammed through the front entrance of the building and come to rest in the foyer, it's driver still trapped in the vehicle. Later that morning the Imam described the damage.
Imam Fawaz Damra- As you can see here the whole foyer area is damaged. The steps are completely damaged. And the huge devastation here, as you see in the front of the door here is completely damaged. So the door is damaged, the closet inside is damaged, glass is all over the carpet inside. The prayer hall, all over the area here, so it's really very devastating things.
BR- It's the type of incident Arab Muslims feared would occur following the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They've wrongly become the targets of retribution, they say, and as an ethnic community, they're nervous. Abraham Malkieh, born and raised in the United States, works at Holy Land Imports on Cleveland's West Side. He says there have been several incidents in the neighborhood, mostly swearing and insults.
Abraham Malkieh- You're out helping customers, or some customers you knopw how the females where the veils on their heads, they'll go out and they automatically target them and start swearing. The first night it happened they broke the two windows in the corner there.
BR- Down the street a bit, at Alamdina Imports, another Arab import market, Mohamed Sheer tells of the friction that's occurred since the attacks from behind the counter.
Mohamed Sheer- A couple of days ago they fight with a guy, he walked in the street because he's Arab... this is not right.
BR- Nancy, another employee who doesn't want her last name used, blames the media for perpetuating stereotypes of Arabs who hate America.
Nancy- Us Arabs don't hate anybody. This is our country as well as yours. We do not hate America. If we hated America we wouldn't be here.
BR- That's a prevailing attitude among many in Cleveland's Arab community that the United States is home, that they are legal citizens, whether naturalized or born and raised here. And, says Imam Fawaz Damra, many feel an intense loyalty to the U.S.
IFD- We have children who are in the army, we have children who serve in the marines, we had grandparents who served in the army in Korea and Vietnam and others. And it's wrong to assume all Arabs or all Muslims like these are fringe group.
BR- There are many non-Arab voices throughout Cleveland that condemn such stereotyping. Louis Malcmacher is with the Jewish Community Federation. He insists what happened last week in New York and Washington is not about any particular ethnic group, and that Jews abhor violence against the Arab-Americans, calling it out-and-out wrong.
Louis Malcmacher- This was a crime against Americans, and we all have to act like Americans altogether. America has always been this great melting pot and we've got so many different cultures, and this is the only place in the world where you can really live in peace and harmony, and that's the way we need to keep it.
BR- Police say 29-year-old Eric Richley of Middleburg Heights, the man who allegedly drove his car into the grand mosque, was drunk and had had a fight his girlfriend. His alleged action could be prosecuted as a hate crime. At a press conference yesterday Parma Police Chief Mark Manning implored citizens to stay within their senses.
Mark Manning- Please do not do anything like this again. It does not help. It complicates matters. It's a crime, you will be arrested and prosecuted.
BR- In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.