Two days before the war against Iraq began, I printed out the "Muslim Community Safety Kit" that arrived in my e-mail.
The nine-page kit is designed for Muslims, Arab Americans and those perceived to be Middle Eastern for use if there is a backlash resulting from the war against Iraq. It comes from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and includes advice on developing a legal contact list, reacting to threats of violence, and reporting suspicious behavior to the FBI.
CAIR's examples of recent anti-Muslim assaults show how handy the kit can be. Three days before the first volley in this war was fired, the organization reports, four Muslim women in California said another patron at a restaurant they were visiting in Venice made references to raping Muslim women and threatened them with physical assault.
In Michigan, a Muslim father and son reported that they were refused service at a store in Fraser. "You Arabs get out of here. . . . We don't want to serve you guys. . . . Go back to your country. . . . Dirty Arabs," they reported the store's cashier as saying. Another customer also joined in the abuse.
The day before the war began, an Islamic center in Glendale Heights, Ill., received a phoned bomb threat. Local FBI agents are working with the center on the case.
In the six weeks before the start of the war, death threats were made against Muslim students at San Jose State University in California, and physical assaults against Muslims were reported in California, Georgia, New Jersey and South Carolina. In Yorba Linda, Calif., a Muslim teenager was badly beaten by a group that allegedly included white supremacists.
It is no wonder the FBI has said, "A U.S. war with Iraq or another terrorist attack could trigger a wave of hate crimes against Muslims and Arab Americans in the United States."
Besides the immense sadness and helplessness I share with many in this country and abroad at the start of a war I consider unjust, worry tears at me from a million directions.
I call my Iraqi American friend in Washington and tell her that she and her relatives in Baghdad are in my prayers.
I call my brother, who has that "Middle Eastern look," and his wife, who wears a headscarf and is six months pregnant, and tell them to be vigilant. My sister-in-law has uncles and aunts who work in Kuwait who haven't been able to leave because they teach in government schools and the Kuwaiti authorities will not return their passports unless they resign.
The rest of our families are in Egypt, where state security forces have used water tanks and dogs to subdue antiwar demonstrators.
For some Muslims and Arab Americans, worries are compounded by fears for their loved ones in the U.S. armed forces involved in the war.
My brother answers my calls with worries of his own about my safety in New York City. Police dogs and checkpoints on bridges are becoming common. From my window during the day, I can see a helicopter constantly hovering over Times Square, which is considered a primary terrorist target and is just a few blocks from where I live.
We pray there isn't another terrorist attack here or anywhere else. Besides obvious fears for safety, many Muslims worry that we will be rounded up en masse in the case of such an attack.
A Muslim woman told me recently: "After September 11th, I started thinking if anything like this ever happens again and we're rounded up, at least my son will be okay. He has blond hair and can call himself Zak instead of Zaki. He'll pass for white and no one will ever suspect otherwise."
In the face of these worries, how do we hold on to the life-affirming?
I watched with my best friend as the president delivered his speech giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq. My friend is Jewish American and I am Muslim Egyptian. We met when we were both reporters in the Jerusalem bureau of a news agency. Our friendship gives me hope that our own coexistence can be duplicated.
At the end of my calls to my brother, I always ask about my niece-to-be. "She's really kicking about in there," he tells me. "I can't wait to meet her."
Neither can I, I reply.
Mona Eltahawy is a New York-based writer.