Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate

Washington D.C.

Faisal Alam

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Al-Fatiha Foundation

In the aftermath of 9/11, it was, oh my God, here we go again. You brace yourself because you know what will happen.

From September to January things were really bad. We heard many reports of verbal and physical harassment. The Gay and Lesbian Arab Society in New York was not allowed to meet at the LGBT community center. When it was safe enough to go, people were verbally harassing them. People were being profiled left and right. Every friend I have who was not white was stopped in airports. Many were banned from planes.

There was one incident where an apartment was vandalized with swastikas. The victim called the police and they arrested him and took him down to the precinct. He is a third or fourth generation Moroccan – someone who is very light-skinned but wears religious garb. That’s why he was targeted.

Six months after 9/11 we surveyed our membership about their experiences. Seventy-five percent felt physically unsafe. Things haven’t changed since then. People don’t feel they could call the police – but also that they can’t call on their mosques for support.

People felt really stuck. Many people fled to Canada – we helped people connect with others in Toronto and Vancouver.

Special registration threw people off. We don’t have the capacity to deal with something like this, all we could do was refer people to other organizations. AALDEF [Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund] did a lot around special registration, we were sending a lot of people there.

No one in our circle was deported – most had legal status. There was one case, a young Moroccan man fleeing family violence, who was jailed because of a visa overstay; ultimately he got asylum.

We aren’t able to really know even the scale of the damage. A male Pakistani couple was separated when one was deported. A young man fled to Canada when his family went back. Everyone’s family was affected – someone they knew was deported, scared, and so on.

Mainstream Muslim and Arab groups are as scared of us as we are of them. We are in same coalitions – antiwar, pro–human rights. I’d say that these organizations are not homophobic, but not especially welcoming. In general we haven’t approached them yet to build a bridge.

We’ve taken on a lot of work responding to horrendous stuff in LGBT media, which hasn’t stopped. The National Enquirer called to ask about a rumor that Mohamed Atta was gay, which the gay media then picked up. A Russian anthropologist wrote an article arguing that the 9/11 hijackers were sexually repressed because they live in segregated societies. That sort of thing.

The Bay Windows, an LGBT newspaper in Boston, attacked Surina Khan [then director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission] because she spoke out against the war on Afghanistan, saying she “should go back where she came from.”  Of course, she can’t, because she would be killed as a lesbian.