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Sensing the Muslim experience, through a name

Know My Name

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The day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I was making a dinner reservation at a local restaurant. After stating the time I wished to dine and the number in my party, I was asked for my last name.

For the first time in the six years since I took my husband's surname, I hesitated.

"Haddad," I finally said quietly, hoping the man on the other end wouldn't recognize it as one of the most common Middle Eastern names.

I had just seen a report on CNN that several Arab and Muslim groups in California had begun receiving threatening phone calls in response to the terrorist attacks. And I had just heard that increased security measures at airports would include more vigilant screening of passengers with "certain last names."

Later that same day, as I picked up photos from a local camera shop and was again asked for my name, I looked around to see who stood beside me before I said, "Haddad."

As I stood in my living room on Tuesday morning and watched in disbelief and horror as the second plane struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, I immediately knew that anti-Arab sentiment would be quick to arise.

It wasn't long before I heard about attacks on Muslim mosques in Texas and about messages such as "Kill all Arabs," which have been spotted on a Web site intended to help locate victims and survivors of the disaster. I read messages such as, "All foreign nationals from countries identified as belligerent, should either be deported or detained," and, "They don't understand mercy or compassion or decency. They only understand force. Afganistan[sic] and Palistine[sic] need to be removed from the map," from my very own community on richmond.com.

I feel vulnerable. And I don't have a drop of Arab blood in my body. But my husband is half Arab. My father-in-law, a Connecticut physician and naturalized American citizen, is a Christian Palestinian, born in Jerusalem in 1936. My wariness at speaking my name is nothing compared to the pain, anger and fear he must be feeling now. Then there are the scores of Arab-American Muslim women, conspicuous in their face- and head-covering hijabs, who must be terrified to leave their homes.

Though the media and the American government have warned against blanket condemnation of all Middle Easterners because of the acts of a few fringe extremists, it is only natural that Americans need someone to blame.

It is scary to be a scapegoat. And even if I am not Middle Eastern, my name is. My husband, son and extended family are both Arab and Palestinian. To deny that would allow more hatred and evil to prevail. Intolerance for any group — be it Middle Eastern terrorists against Americans or Americans against Arabs — is wrong. I am repulsed by the acts of terrorists, but I am not ashamed of who I am.

My name?

Haddad. Jessica Ronky Haddad.

Jessica Ronky Haddad is a former arts & culture editor for Style Weekly.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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