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For some, fear and threats come from inside America

By Angelica Medaglia, Globe Correspondent, 9/12/2002

NEW YORK - Elsewhere in the city, even as the hours passed peacefully, many people wondered if terrorists might again attack this country. On Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn - where Arab immigrants have built one of New York's most popular Middle Eastern hubs - some people also worried about the behavior of other Americans.

While the afternoon went quietly by, and some planned to attend a candlelight vigil organized by a local Arab group in memory of the Sept. 11 attacks, many voiced their concern about a backlash.

Rashid Elahod, who runs Land of Paradise, a multipurpose store on Atlantic Avenue, had seen the faces of his clients when they read the fliers he piled on the counter a few days ago. The flier, from the county district attorney's office, was written in Arabic and said that if someone was attacked, they should not retaliate but instead call 911.

''People would ask, `What happened, did someone get attacked?' Even this flier makes people scared,'' Elahod said yesterday.

Lance Ogiste, executive assitant to the district attorney, said, ''We haven't had many incidents, but we wanted to do this as a precaution.''

Houria Santouhi, who stepped into the store yesterday with her two daughters to buy a calling card, read the flier.

''Yeah, that makes me scared,'' said the Algerian-American, who volunteers as a translator for Arab-speaking mothers at Public School 33. But once leaving the store, she tried to put those concerns aside.

''I don't think negatively,'' she said, donning a T-shirt with ''US'' on the back in commemoration of Sept. 11. ''I tell my daughters, `You are American, you are Arab.' '' And then added, ''We feel like everybody else. That's it.''

A few doors down, inside Sabaa Restaurant, Salim Deep, a construction worker, sat eating a Middle Eastern beef stew with pita.

Deep, a Christian from Lebanon, said the most bothersome problem the Arab community was experiencing was the fact that many people don't differentiate between Arabs and Muslims, or between Muslims and radical Islamist terrorists.

Others working in the neighborhood faulted the media for only reporting alarming news from the Middle East.

''The media, when they talk about Islam and about our countries, they just talk about terrorism and [Osama] bin Laden and 9/11,'' said market-owner Elahod.

Azizah Azam, who works at the recently opened Maram Tours & Travel Inc., and helps organize tours to Mecca, said that soon after the attacks, someone in Jamaica, Queens, where she lived, shouted at her, ''Arab, go back to your country.''

''They don't know I'm not Arab. I am Malaysian,'' Azam said. She noted that she was worried that her headscarf would make her a target for anti-Muslim sentiments.

''I have to take at least two trains to get here, and I thought people would look at me weirdly. But no one did.''

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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