DEARBORN, MICH., JAN. 18 -- Throughout the Persian Gulf crisis, coffeehouses in the heavily populated Arab south end here have been crowded with Arab Americans, mostly men, debating Middle East politics, playing cards and drinking coffee as late as 3 a.m.

Since war erupted in the Persian Gulf region, however, the sound of television sets has replaced the chatter, and coffehouses have been closing much earlier.

Most stores and restaurants in the Arab business district on Warren Avenue are crowded with stone-faced Arab Americans standing with their arms crossed on their chests and watching Cable News Network's war coverage.

On Wednesday night, when U.S. air attacks began, the district normally would have been filled with women in traditional Moslem headdress shuttling their children through the stores. But Warren Avenue shut down. "Everyone went home to pray," said one Palestinian owner of a grocery.

The silence in North America's largest Arab American community is the result of shock, said Noel Saleh, who runs an Arab human services center here. "There is a numbed sadness at seeing another confrontation in the Middle East," he added.

Fear of anti-Arab hostility is another reason that the community is acknowledging the U.S. strikes with a tense silence, Saleh said. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) in Detroit, which usually acts as a voice for the 250,000 people here, is "taking a few days to let things sink in," said group spokeswoman Jessica Daher.

Just after 6 p.m. Thursday, Daher said, she answered a telephone call at the ADC office and was threatened by a man who said he was ready to "come down with a high-powered rifle and do some serious damage."

Outdoor recess periods have been halted at Dearborn schools heavily populated with Arab-American children to avoid making them vulnerable to attackers.

Generally supportive of U.S. policy in the gulf region, most members of the community had favored a nonviolent Arab solution with no U.S. military action, Daher said.

"Arab Americans are on one side; the Arab masses are on another," said Osama Siblani, editor of the Arab American News. "Whether we like it or not, there are Arab masses who support Saddam Hussein. But Arab Americans here who live in this democracy know that Hussein is just another dictator."

While they are concerned about their relatives in Iraq, many Iraqi Americans said they are Americans first.

"What's good for America is good for us," said Sam Yono, 40, an Iraqi American who owns a grocery in Detroit. "We feel for the innocents and our relatives there. We really do. We placed our faith in the U.S. policy and hope and pray that we placed it well and that this will be over soon, with both sides suffering as little as possible."

Keid Mubaraz, 52, whose family is from Yemen, which has been largely supportive of Saddam, sent his son, Army Lt. Joseph Mubaraz, 31, off to Saudi Arabia in November as a member of the allied coalition.

Dressed in traditional Yemeni cloak and headdress after services at a south end mosque today, Mubaraz said, "My son was born here, he always liked being in the Army and he was proud to be defending his country."

Of Yemeni counterparts and other Arabs whom his son may have to fight, Mubaraz said, "I just prayed for them, and I prayed for peace."

Iraqis suffer most from heartache, said Imam Mohammed Karoub, a Moslem religious leader. "We hoped against hope that there would be no war," he said. "But now there is, and we have to worry about casualties in the Middle East and casualties in the Arab community. Don't people usually come from the Middle East to escape hostilities and danger?"