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“I Had Visions of Being Rounded Up:” Emira Habiby-Browne Describes the Impact of the September 11, 2001 Attacks on Arab Americans

For Arab and Muslim Americans, especially those living in New York, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were particularly painful; they not only had to confront the sorrow of the attacks, but they also faced a tide of discrimination, harassment, and in some cases violence aimed at Arabs and Muslims. Emira Habiby-Browne, the director of the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, spoke about the hostility many community members faced on the job, and the fear that spread as hundreds of Arab and Middle Eastern men were detained in secret by the federal government. Like other groups whose loyalty was questioned during wartime due to their ethnic background, Arab and Muslim Americans identify themselves closely with their country and were deeply saddened and frustrated by the suspicion targeted at them.

Listen to Audio:

HABIBY-BROWNE: When I heard, when I first heard it and I heard them say Pearl Harbor, immediately I had visions of being rounded up and being put into camps. I mean, every time anything happens I think all of us of Arab background feel this sense of incredible dread and fear of oh my gosh what is going to happen now?

One of the things that is happening and that shouldn’t be happening is that there is a lot of fear and there’s a lot of anxiety and a tremendous sense of vulnerability a feeling of vulnerability. What I think needs to be done is we need to speak out. We need to let it be known that we are Americans like everybody else and we have the same rights as everybody else. We need to press on with our civil rights. Most of us have come to this country because we want to make better lives for ourselves and our children.

We have been getting over and over calls about harassment in the workplace about losing jobs after 9/11 about not being able to get jobs after 9/11 because of who they are. Of really negative atmosphere is the workplace, racial slurs. Just, it’s been a very, very, difficult time for the Arab and Muslim community in the workplace. Women who wear head scarves, it’s been very difficult for them in the workplace. And we’ve been hearing about this, people don’t report it because they are afraid, they don’t want to report it because they don’t want to get in more trouble, they don’t want to lose their jobs. So it’s been extremely difficult. Of course others have lost their jobs because they were working in restaurants or hotels or had carts, you know, food carts, so they have lost their jobs. So it’s had an incredible, incredible impact on the community. And there are families where they don’t know where their heads of household are because they have been detained. It’s been a very painful and very difficult time for us because we feel that we’ve been victimized twice. First as Americans who have all been victimized by this horrendous act, and traumatized and secondly because of who we are by ethnicity and religion.

Source: Interviewed by Simin Farkhondeh 10/01
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads