Media Mention of Ziad Asali in Dallas News - October 19, 2009 - 12:00am

North Texans were both angry and relieved last month when federal agents arrested a Jordanian teenager in a failed plot to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.

But for area Muslims, the arrest of 19-year-old Hosam "Sam" Smadi evoked yet another emotion – fear.

"Being a Muslim in America today is not easy," said Hadi Jawad, a longtime Dallas business owner and a volunteer at the Dallas Peace Center. "We feel under siege. There is open season on our faith. Muslims are painted with a broad brush."

Jawad and other Muslims praise the work of law enforcement in arresting Smadi, as well as two other terrorism suspects in New York and Illinois. But because of all three suspects' Islamic faith, they say the arrests cast aspersions on Islam that hearken back to the atmosphere that existed immediately after 9/11.

Though most area Muslims are quick to say the mood of the country has not returned to that bitter level, most add that their lives here would be practically unbearable if any Muslim terrorist were to carry out another attack on American soil

"We have to work toward a common yardstick of justice, but we are just one catastrophic incident away from the post-9/11 atmosphere and even worse," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, a Muslim civil rights organization. "We have to accept the double standards, as bad as they are. That's just the fact, unfortunately."

Muslims in North Texas say they don't know of any physical assaults on them of late, but that after any high-profile negative event involving Muslims – such as the arrest of Smadi – they face increased racial taunts and verbal harassment.

Al-Marayati says suspicions about Muslims persist, in large part, because Americans – most of whom are Christian – either can't or won't make a distinction between the mainstream and fringe elements of Islam, while they discern that difference for others. He says, for example, that when non-Muslims commit extreme acts, they are quickly dismissed as being crazy or weird or having some deep-seated emotional problem, and are not viewed as representative of an entire group of people.

But Muslim bad actors, he said, don't get the same treatment.

"When a Christian does something ... that's how it's reported, that they happen to be a Christian," Al-Marayati said. "But if it's a Muslim, it's as if it's the [Muslim] religion that's driving it."

Mohamed Elibiary, president of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a Muslim interfaith organization in Plano, agrees.

"The average American thinks it must be the religion" that pushes Muslim extremists, Elibiary said. "There must be something about them. That sentiment has been there since 9/11, and it hasn't gone anywhere."

The Smadi case

The September arrest of Smadi and the arrests of terrorism suspects Najibullah Zazi in New York and Michael Finton – an American citizen who converted to Islam while in prison – in Illinois only seem to reinforce negative perceptions many have that the Muslim faith is inherently anti-American.

And that puts more Muslims on edge.

"Any time we hear this sort of bad news, with someone with a Muslim background, we see some sort of Muslim backlash," said Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Association of Carrollton. "Often it's with women who wear the hijab, or there are racial slurs shouted at us. They become easy targets because you can easily identify them as Muslims. A handful of ignorant people or hatemongers will do this."

And some officials worry that the actions of law enforcement agencies, across all levels of government, might be helping to reinforce some of those ideas. They point out, for example, that the FBI sometimes uses informants in mosques, and that a new program calls for citizens to become watchdogs for behaviors that some might consider innocent acts, such as taking pictures of buildings or wearing oversized clothing.

"If police and the public start to view these activities as being suspicious in themselves, they'll lose sight of what really could be inappropriate behavior," said Mike German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent.

"There is no scientific behavior that links photography to terrorism in a way that other innocuous behavior does," he said. "Today, most of us have cellphones with cameras and they take pictures with it and there's nothing wrong with that."

But if the negative stereotypes about Muslims are to change, many Muslims, even those who feel unduly scrutinized, say it will be up to them.

"I think it is imperative for Arab Americans and Muslim Americans to feel and to act just as if they are nothing but first-class American citizens, because they are," said Dr. Ziad J. Asali, founder and president of the American Task Force on Palestine. "They should have nothing but the interest of the country and the community and their families in mind."


Hadi Jawad, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1980, said that not all of the anti-Muslim sentiment is "necessarily bad."

"It might rest on the Muslim community to reach out ... to show that we are just as average and just as mundane as everyone else," Jawad said. "We have the same aspirations, to get a good education, to take care of the poor and needy. The same issues that everyone else has, we have."

Kellye Kines, who once considered Smadi a close friend when he lived in the Ellis County town of Italy, agrees with Jawad that everyone, including Muslims, should be treated as individuals. Kines said Smadi's religion didn't make her or friends in Italy suspicious of him, nor would it affect how she deals with other Muslims in the future.

"I can't speak for everybody, but ... I don't think everybody is going to turn out to be a terrorist," said Kines, 20. "I don't want to take this and judge everybody the same.

"I just really don't want to be friends with someone that tried to kill thousands of people," she added. "And I don't care what religion they are."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017