Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate


Malik Mujahid

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Proprietor, Sound Vision

Our office was downtown until August of 2001; then we moved here to Bridgeview. After 9/11, there was a demonstration, a huge crowd shouting at us. They were demonstrating because there was Arabic writing on the outside of our building. There was an Arab restaurant in this location before us. It happened twice, for several hours each time.

It’s still going on, two years later. On April 16 [2003], I don’t know how, but there were bullet holes in the glass of our store windows. The same day we put Islamic posters over them. I reported it to the police and they said it was just vandalism and that no investigation was needed. They took my report in two or three minutes. I went to the ACLU, to the state’s attorney. Everyone just passed me to someone else.

I had been urging people to report incidents, but I realized then it was futile. I even requested an investigation from the chief of police, but it never happened.

About a year ago, our customers started complaining they weren’t receiving their mail orders; our suppliers were not receiving their checks. We started calling them all and discovered that many had not received mail we had sent. We complained to the post office seven or eight times, but nothing was ever resolved.

When we mail things to addresses in the US it takes 14-15 days to arrive; our overseas mail is never received at all. We are a small mail-order business – it is crucial for us to have reliable mail service. So I hired someone to take our mail randomly to different post offices around the city.

Our mail arrives opened, but with no apologies or acknowledgements, nothing from the  post office. It’s like they were prison authorities and could open the mail at will.

Here in this strip mall most of the businesses have Arab or Muslim owners. None of them are willing to talk to the media. Our business has suffered, services have suffered. I stopped going to the gas station closest to our mosque and the mosque school.

Most people don’t want to report incidents. Most of us come from countries where people don’t trust the police. People don’t talk about it, but there are thousands of cases like this of very clear hatred, as well as subtler incidents of hate and discrimination.

My son is unemployed. No one will call him for an interview. Before he was making $80,000. A friend of his changed nothing but the name on his resume and immediately started getting calls for interviews.

People are afraid, and they feel there is no benefit in filing reports. Since 9/11, I have been urging people to report incidents, to use the system. I’m realizing now it’s not so easy. I am an educated person, a prominent business owner. People with less education don’t even want to open their mouths.

There is major under-documentation of what has been going on. The numbers you see are nothing but the tip of the iceberg. … No report gives an overview of the situation. In the Muslim community we are in a sort of “virtual internment” – we are still in our homes, but people are living in fear.

People are arrested to a lot of fanfare, then released a week or two later without charges. But that is not news. I would estimate that at least 30,000 people have been arrested and released like this. It’s a technique for maintaining the fear.

On Devon St., most businesses have seen a 30-40 percent drop in business. A competitor of ours just called to ask if we wanted to buy him out. There are far fewer people on the street on Devon.

Most people are either undocumented or their papers are in process. Even many permanent residents are leaving because they are scared of what will come next. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship has a shelter of 120 beds that are always full. The motels are always full. Many Pakistanis were trying to escape to Canada as the deadline approached for special registration.

The prisons are full, beyond capacity. Entire families are incarcerated. The prisons are buying 200 Korans a month from me.

After 9/11, there were 5000-6000 arrests. Perhaps two thousand people were released. The rest were deported. One man called me from prison. He was there for four months before he even saw a judge.

The FBI and INS were coming to his home. His wife said he was on a business trip and asked them to return the next day. They came back and arrested him. Every three or four days he was moved to another prison. He got a single phone call — after four months.

Finally, an immigration court bonded him out for $250,000. The INS judge told him your case is good, you should fight it – don’t sign for voluntary departure. He said, no, I don’t want to live this way. His boss was willing to give him a ticket.

This is not because of 9/11. It is not special registration. They just show up. A tenured journalism professor at the state university, a Muslim from India, was interviewed at least three times by the FBI.

Perhaps as many as 150,000 people have been interviewed – 100,000 through special registration, another ten or eleven thousand Iraqis. They have been looking for Arabs to interview.

Many of them do not fall into the categories of people who need to register. They’re just being harassed.