CAIR: NEW YORK IS HELL FOR YOUNG OSAMA
After years of being taunted as "bin Laden" and "terrorist" at school, Osama Al-Najjar attempted suicide last July at the age of 15.
Now 16, he is an extreme example of the difficulties facing some Arabs in New York, the city hit hardest by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"They destroyed everything nice in our life with what they did to him," said Suad Abuhasna, Osama's mother, referring to racist abuse she said was heaped on her son while he was a student at Tottenville High School in Staten Island.
Osama is now officially known as Sammy. He changed his name in December to escape the stigma attached to the name he shares with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"I just wanted to make his life easier," said Suad, who immigrated from Jordan with her husband and four children in December 1999. Her eldest son has served in the U.S. Navy in the Iraq war.
Leaders of the Muslim community -- which numbers about 600,000 in New York City and is among the fastest growing groups in the city, according to a Columbia University study -- say Osama's case highlights an increasing distrust and fear of Islam among Americans since 9/11.
"There's become this culture of Islamophobia in American society," said Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Unfortunately, kids are not immune."
Among the efforts in New York to bridge the gap between Americans and the Arab world is a new bilingual Arab-English school. But that too has faced opposition.
Fear of Islam and Arab culture has been evident in the divisiveness over the founding of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a publicly funded Arab studies school scheduled to open in Brooklyn this fall.