Incidents of Violence, Prejudice Followed Last Year's Attacks





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In the days after Sept. 11, Muslim Student Association boardmember Salman Alam sat at his organization's table on Sproul Plaza. Alam had come to offer his condolences for the 400 Muslims that died that day.

But instead of sharing grief, Alam found himself subjected to yelling and racial slurs like "All Muslims are terrorists" and "Muslims are anti-American."

Alam, like other Middle Eastern members of the Berkeley community, was forced to deal with racial discrimination, acts of violence and prejudice in the months following Sept. 11.

In a nationwide poll, the Council of American-Islamic Relations found 57 percent of Arab Americans experienced "bias or discrimination" in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Eighty-seven percent said they knew of a "fellow Muslim who experienced discrimination."

UC police Capt. Bill Cooper said there has been an increase in "heckling" incidents after Sept. 11. "Heckling" is harassing people based on their perceived ethnicity and national origins, Cooper said.

"There's been threatening 'go away' kind of talk," Cooper said. "There wasn't anything really extreme reported to us."

But Alam said the incidents were "humiliating" and "unnerving."

Muslim women were subjected to racist threats, spitting and name-calling because of their hijabs, a wrap Muslim women wear to cover their face for modesty.

Alam said one female Muslim student had her hijab pulled off, causing the Muslim Student Association to create its own night escort service to protect students from harassment.

Two Muslim students dropped out of UC Berkeley because of their post-Sept. 11 treatment, said Roberto Hernandez, a recent UC Berkeley graduate.

But Middle Eastern students were not the only students subjected to discrimination. Other racial minorities such as South Asians and Latinos also faced threatening incidents.

UC Berkeley students Vasu Sunkara and Ankur Patel are developing a radio documentary on Sikh discrimination, focusing on Sikh Americans in the Bay Area.

"When you come into this country, (you come in) never doubting who you are," Sunkara said. "9/11 forced us to look back and say who are we really?"

In the documentary, congressional candidate Sukhmander Singh describes an incident when he visited a state office. He said he was "taken aback" when one of the receptionists asked, "What's that rag on your head?"

Some members of the Latino community were told "to go back to Arabia," Hernandez said.

"It's not just the Muslim students," he said. "Lots of people in our community physically look like we're from the Middle East."

Anthrax scares around the country last spring caused many to fear opening their mail.

Ten hate letters filled with white powder were sent to Latino organizations throughout the Bay Area. In March, the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Library and the Center of Latin American Studies was subjected to the anthrax scares.

Center of Latin American Studies employee Dionicia Ramos received a letter saying Latinos do not belong in universities. She quickly discovered it had been filled with white powder and dropped the letter on her computer keyboard.

Although police determined the white powder contained no hazardous chemicals, Ramos said the incident made her "more cautious of where I'm at and what I'm doing."

In the months following Sept. 11, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict also intensified. This may have caused a string of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

During spring break, "Fuck the Jews" was written on Berkeley Hillel, and its front door was smashed.

Last October, the statements "Fuck Israel" and "Free Palestine" were painted in black on the University Lutheran Church.

Across the street, two statements written in red ink on the sidewalk read, "We fund Israeli terror" and "Palestinian blood on our hands."

Berkeley Hillel Executive Director Adam Weisberg said the incidents at Hillel have encouraged people to become more involved in Hillel's programs.

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