Arab Americans reflect on 9/11.. and what has changed

DEARBORN, Mich (WXYZ) - Ten years after the attacks on America, Arab Americans are reflecting on the tragedy of that day, and what followed.

We caught up with Ahmed Fawaz eating lunch at Amani's in Dearborn. He says 9-11 was the day "basically when everything changed for us as Arab Americans in Dearborn."

To Amad and many other Arab Americans, dealing with the heartbreak of 9-11 was complicated by the suspicions that followed.

"We weren't just another American group or immigrants anymore," he says. "We were the boogie man."

Nabeel Abraham is the editor of Arab Detroit 9/11. Metro Detroit is home to the largest Arab population outside the Middle East… Immigrants who moved her for a better life, others born and raised here.

"At that point it was very hard for Arabs and Arab Americans who been assimilating or were assimilating , who were Americans. They suddenly had their Americanism questioned, their loyalty questioned," Abraham says.
"So people responded with outward displays of loyalties, wearing flags, or their businesses, doing things to prove their loyalty to their neighbors, to their co-workers, to society at large."

And even now, 10 years later, some still feel that need.
Najah Bazzy is a Muslim who wears hajab, the customary head covering for Muslim women.

"When I get on an airplane and I find myself smiling, because I want them to see my smile, not my scarf, because I realize that there's tension," Bazzy says.

Just over 40 percent of Arab Americans in our area are Muslim. The challenges post September 11th have perhaps been even greater for them.

"We were dealing with something that was not, despite what this country thinks, was not a Muslim thing. We were dealing with someone or something that breeded hatred," Bazzy says.

Imam Hassan Qazwini leads the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States.
He says he's discouraged by the anti-Islamic sentiment that seems to be rising. He points to the recent Pew Research Center poll that shows in part that 2005, 4 years after the attacks, 41 percent of people had a favorable opinion of Islam. In 2010, that number dropped to 30 percent.

"Muslims have a responsibility to spread a better and accurate knowledge about their faith to the American people," Imam Qazwini says. " I've attended sessions and given lectures in over 400 places such as universities, churches and synagogues since 9-11."

It's a dialogue seemingly going on everywhere. Arab Americans of all religions sharing their culture to people who in some cases are seeking out information.

"Whether they're White American or Chinese American or African American, have actually taken a step forward and gotten to know us a bit more and some of the myths have been lifted and that's a good thing," says Fouaz.

After September 11th, donations to charities in the Middle East were suddenly suspect. As a result, charity was diverted to our area, Mosques were built and places like the Arab American National Museum was opened.

Devon Akmon is the Deputy Director. "What we're trying to do is dispel stereotypes about our community, trying to preserve its history and involve the community in telling its story."

Najah Bazzy runs a humanitarian organization called Zaman International. She was born and raised here.

"What I still feel is missing is America's acceptance that the American Muslim identity is a part of the country. You know my family has been here 116 years, so we're a blended people, we're a blended people. We will have arrived in our country as Americans when what's in my head is as important as what's on my head. So I feel that there's that bridge that we need to cross over."



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