Everything seemed normal Monday morning on Main Street in
the heart of New Jersey’s Arab-American community: Bakeries sold sticky
sweet pastries, storefront restaurants ground chick peas for falafel
sandwiches and women shoppers in head scarfs drifted along the sidewalk.
But under the surface, there was renewed fear and anxiety in this northern
New Jersey community where as many as six of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived
or spent time shortly before the attacks.
With federal authorities raising the terror threat level to orange, citing
specific threats against the Prudential building in Newark, Muslims are
once again feeling uneasy, fearing the larger community _ and law
enforcement _ might view them as potential terrorists.
“Our community feels under siege,” said Sohail Mohammed, an immigration
attorney who has represented scores of men detained as part of the
post-9/11 investigation. “Every time there’s an increase in the color
level, there’s an anxiety increase among Muslims.
“We have had people yell at us, ‘Go home!’ and use curses against us,” he
said. “It happens every time the level changes. We get dirty looks from
people, racial slurs. It’s not pleasant, particularly if you are with young
“These things agitate the sense of belonging for American Muslims,” added
Nabil Abbassi, a board member of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, one
of the state’s most influential mosques.
“There’s a sense of insecurity in the air this morning,” he said.
It is not a groundless fear; the number of anti-Muslim bias incidents in
New Jersey tripled last year from 12 in 2002 to 40 in 2003. Nationwide,
bias complaints to the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic
Relations rose from 602 in 2002 to 1,019 last year