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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
A community under siege
An Islamic library and shop in a mostly Arabic street in Brooklyn
A shuttered Islamic library and shop in Brooklyn
The attacks launched against the US have nurtured a sense of unity and defiance. But America's Muslims are at risk of becoming a focus for the nation's anger, writes BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley in New York.

With Afghanistan-based Osama Bin Laden widely believed to have masterminded the terror attacks which have traumatised the United States, few restaurateurs would envy New York's Kabul Café its name.

Kabul Café
Flying the flag: Kabul Café in New York
Around the corner from a fire station grieving lost crew members and beside an NYPD precinct house into which stream police officers dusty from their duties at "ground zero", the Afghan eatery has just tacked a stars and stripes flag over the lunch menu.

Reports of verbal and physical attacks on American Muslims, especially those of Middle Eastern origin, increase with almost every news bulletin. In the empty dining room Shah Shair sits behind the till.

"Thank God, we've not even had any crank calls," he says. "It's quiet, but it's not just here. I checked with the other restaurants in the street and they're quiet too."

Mr Shah, who left Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979, says he is reassured by Mayor Giuliani's vow that New York will not tolerate hate crime against Muslims, but is also grateful for the sizeable police presence conveniently on his doorstep.


I expect this backlash to grow as they find more bodies

Abdul Haq
"I'll be nervous when they go in to Afghanistan to get Osama."

In the shadow of the Kabul Café's blue awning, a plumber peers up from the engine of his ailing van.

"Those Afghans are going to get their asses kicked," he says. "The Afghans over there," his mate quickly adds. "Nothing's going to happen to the ones in this country."

Crank calls

In a mosque above another Middle Eastern restaurant across town, Abdul Haq is not so sure.

Arab-American vigil
Arab-Americans held a vigil for the dead
"I picked up that phone and a man said: 'You people are traitors. Get out of this country'," he says.

"There's lots of verbal abuse, but then there were plenty of curses and insults before this happened. I expect this backlash to grow as they find more bodies. People will become angrier."

Fear of reprisals has confined many Muslims to their homes. Attendance at Friday's prayers was down to half, says Mr Haq.

Mohammad Munir says his wife and seven-year-old son have not ventured far from their Brooklyn apartment since the towers fell, nearly crushing his cab.

"The boy does not want to go to school. The teacher has said the children are not to blame anybody for the attack, but he is scared of what white people will do to him."

Advice for the innocent

Copies of the Weekly Mirror International are piled at the mosque's entrance.


Don't get involved with buying weapons to defend yourself - if someone offers you a weapon, it is a trick

Imam Malik
The back page suggests Muslims should travel in numbers to avoid physical attack, prepare themselves for harassment at airports, and when faced with verbal abuse to remember "our beloved Prophet Muhammad when he was harassed in the city of Taif".

Inside a police cordon at the plush Islamic Cultural Center, Imam Mohamed Abdul Malik's advice to worshippers is starker.

"Don't get involved with buying weapons to defend yourself. If someone offers you a weapon, it is a trick. They're going to jail you as a terrorist."

He then addresses the women - hair covered - kneeling behind a velvet rope at the back of the room. "If our sisters want to tie their hair back so they won't be targeted, we understand that. But we cannot live in fear. We should not surrender."

Among the dead

Television coverage of what is being called America's New War is inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment, Imam Malik says.

A Muslim leader holds the photo of Amena Rasul, a victim of the WTC collapse
A Muslim leader holds a victim's photo
"And when people get enraged, they kill, bomb and destroy property. We're not going to let people hurt our women and children."

Imam Malik says it has been forgotten that "many Muslims died, many Muslims, and we have cried".

Posters asking for help in finding loved ones missing in Tuesday's disaster have been taped up across New York. Amid the photocopied pictures of wedding couples, graduation ceremonies and family holidays, there are indeed Muslim names.

"Everyone had people there. I lost two friends," says Ali Fathalla from behind the counter of his shop in Queens.

Ali Fathalla
Ali Fathalla: "I don't feel any fear here"
Mr Fathalla's business is one a few dozen in Steinway Street's Arab enclave. Next door a sign in the tailor's window informs customers he will be back soon, if it is "the will of Allah". If anywhere in New York is to bare the brunt of anti-Muslim feeling, it will presumably be here.

"I've heard about these things happening, but I have not seen them with my eyes," says Mr Fathalla.

"Yesterday a man broke a mirror at the café over the street, but he apologised."

A large star and stripes has pride of place in Mr Fathalla's window. "I don't feel any fear here. This has been my country since 1985 - my children are Americans."

'Things are cooling down'

An Arab news channel blares over the bubble of water pipes and the stirring of sweet tea in café a few doors down. The gossiping clientele are every bit as diverse as the group who gathered to hear Imam Malik.

Poster of Osama Bin Laden
Feelings are running high in the US
Egyptian-born Alex Mourad says: "Arabs have always been looked at differently here, but this country was built by immigrants. That's what it's all about. You can't say 'this is my country' because it's our country."

Mr Mourad expects nothing to happen to the Arabs of Queens as a result of last Tuesday's attack. "Things are cooling down. Anyway it's not grown people who would do anything, it's just kids."

By the subway station a grinning teenager wearing a star-spangled bandana hops from foot to foot. He looks expectantly at passers-by, seeing their reaction to the A4 poster he has attached to his T-shirt.

It shows a bearded Osama Bin Laden framed by the crosshairs of a gun sight.

See also:

14 Sep 01 | UK
UK Afghans fear reprisals
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