Growing Fears: Arabs Still Reeling from 9/11 Backlash

Manal El-Hrisse prays in the basement of the Mosque Foundation in southwest suburban Bridgeview. within hours of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, El-Hrisse said, a woman shouted at her, “I wish I had a gun. I wouldshoot you right now.” Many local Arabs say the backlash continues.

Arab Community has Deep Roots in Chicago

Although often portrayed as a new and foreign element, Arabs have been a part of Chicago since the first large wave of Arab immigration to the United States occurred between 1899 and 1921, according to Louise Cainkar, a fellow with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute. The vast majority came from the region known today as Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, according to Cainkar’s study of the Chicago-area Arab community, “Meeting Community Needs, Building on Community Strengths.” Most were Syrian-Lebanese Christians, who tended to assimilate quickly into American society. Almost exclusively male, they were economically successful and brought over their families before U.S. immigration quotas took effect. Palestinian Muslims arrived as well but took a different path.

Breakfast with the Feds

Around 6 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 5, Salim Yusef was jolted awake to pounding at the front door. “I heard voices saying, –˜Come on, open up!'” said Yusef, a 22-year-old permanent U.S. resident of Palestinian origin. He had been asleep on the living room sofa in the south suburban home he shares with his brother and sister-in-law. It was the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.