Life difficult for Arab-Americans

By Staff Writer
May 1, 2003

With the war in Iraq fresh on the minds of Americans, many Arab-Americans students are worried about the effects of anti-Muslim sentiments on college campuses. Still, experts say that those feelings are less prevalent than Gulf War and post-Sept. 11 sentiments.

Jennifer Marks-Gold, international student adviser, says that students from Middle Eastern and Arab countries at Cabrini are “now more aware that they are foreigners on American soil.”

Senior Amina Moukhliss talks about the concerns that many Middle Eastern and Arab students face on campuses nationwide.

Moukhliss talks about the reaction that people gave her post-Sept. 11. “The first question people asked me was, ‘What country are you from?'” Moukhliss says. “I had to think twice before answering.”

President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Ziad Asali, and his organization, are firmly against the war in Iraq, and fear an upswing of anti-Arab-American sentiments. In the period of time between Sept. 11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, such sentiments had finally calmed, however Asali says those sentiments are on the rise again.

Moukhliss tells the story of reactions to her at work post-Sept. 11. “A colleague approached me two days after Sept. 11 asking me if I was ‘one of those,’ because of my dark skin and black hair,” Moukhliss said. Moukhliss felt hurt because she was, “touched by the loss of innocent people, regardless of their ethnicity.”

The responsibility given to Marks-Gold from the Immigration and Naturalization Services department has “shifted towards a policing role,” Marks-Gold said. However, she has been able to keep the same level of comfort with her advisees.

The INS is more reluctant to give foreign students visas because once they have one visa, they can switch between several different ones, thus extending their stay in the country. One INS official in Philadelphia told Marks-Gold, “I don’t want to be the one to be blamed for another Sept. 11.” The official was referring to the hijackers who were in the country on student visas.

Meanwhile, the ADC earlier this month issued an “advisory statement to Arab Americans and Muslims,” warning of the possibility of hate crimes, and emphasizing past experiences from the 1991 Gulf War and Sept. 11 that Arab-Americans have felt.

Where Marks-Gold points out that Cabrini’s small feel makes international students feel more supported.

Dr. Elizabeth Frierson, an assistant professor of history of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Cincinnatti, says that veiled Arab-American women are the most vulnerable to physical attacks and threats. She says these attacks are both in person and via e-mail.

Moukhliss is concerned with her search for a job after graduation. “In a job interview I was asked three times if I’m permitted to stay in the US, even though my resume showed that I worked for a big real estate firm,” Moukhliss says. “Now that I’m looking for a job, I’m concerned that I will be discriminated because of my ethnicity. I’m afraid to be rejected just because of my name and my skin color,” Moukhliss says.

Frierson seemed optimistic that this war will not have as bad a backlash on Arab-Americans as the 1991 Gulf War. Frierson says, “In Cincinnati, I see Arab-American students building bridges, and equally important, letting bridges be built to them.” She went on to say that, “Many Arab-Americans continue to feel isolated, but I have seen tremendous change in this very issue since the last Gulf War.”

Moukhliss says, “Today we live in a very diversified world, and it is time that we learn to accept others as individuals and not where they come from.”

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