A Sept. 18 article on President Bush's condemnation of attacks on Arab Americans referred to an assault against two Muslim women at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill. The assault occurred off-campus. The school also was incorrectly identified as Moraine Valley College. (Published 9/21/01) ---- Abdullah Muhammad Khouj, director of the Islamic Center of Washington, was incorrectly identified in a front-page caption accompanying a Sept. 18 article on President Bush's visit to the center. He was the official pointing out the center's architecture to Bush. (Published 9/19/01)
President Bush, briefly setting aside his war planning efforts, visited the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington yesterday to admonish the nation not to avenge last week's terrorist attacks on innocent American Arabs and Muslims.
In a gesture that surprised and gratified Islamic leaders, Bush stepped up an already intense effort by his administration to prevent hate crimes and discrimination against nearly 10 million American Arabs and Muslims in retaliation for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks by Middle Eastern terrorists.
"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," said the president, escorted by Islamic clerics into the ornate mosque full of Turkish tile, Persian rugs and Egyptian paintings. "Islam is peace."
Quoting from the Koran's prohibitions against evil, Bush said women who cover their heads should not fear leaving their homes. "That's not the America I know," he said. "That should not and that will not stand in America."
Bush's appearance at the mosque -- rare for an American president -- comes at a time when Muslims and Arab Americans are alarmed by threats of violence. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said the FBI had initiated 40 hate crimes investigations involving reported attacks on Arab American citizens and institutions. Among them is the case of a Pakistani Muslim store owner who was shot and killed in Dallas Saturday evening.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it has received reports of more than 350 attacks against Arab Americans around the country, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assaults. It also received reports of dozens of mosques firebombed or vandalized.
In Palos Hills, Ill., two Muslim girls were beaten at Moraine Valley College. In Evansville, Ind., a man driving 80 mph rammed his car into a mosque. In both cases, police arrested suspects. Fairfax County police are investigating two weekend bias crimes they say may be linked to the terror attacks.
There have also been many reported assaults against people who look Middle Eastern but are not. A Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Ariz., was shot and killed this weekend. Another Sikh was arrested by Providence, R.I., police on a train because he was carrying a dagger, a Sikh religious icon. Sikhs are neither Arab nor Muslim; they are adherents of a separate religion, generally from India, and wear turbans and beards.
The worries were evident locally at the Washington Islamic Academy in Springfield yesterday, where security guards patrolled the parking lot and jittery students hugged their parents twice before strapping on their backpacks.
The school's principal, Saleh Nusairat, issued memos to its teachers, asking them to explain that Islam and Muslims do not tolerate such acts and that, "We condemn this evil action regardless of who committed it."
In Eloise Shim's English class, students wrote essays about the World Trade Center attacks. "They think that Muslims did it and I feel terrible," wrote Kamran Adil, 10. "My dad says that if someone comes into my school I should lie down on the floor and pretend I am dead so I don't get hurt."
Some of the students said they felt nervous and even embarrassed about being Muslims. Teachers tried to send a clear message: "Be proud you are a Muslim American," said Yasmeen Asfar, an art teacher at the Al-Qalam All Girls School, which is housed above the Washington Islamic Academy and has about 80 students in fifth to 10th grade.
"It's very, very sad news. It's very terrible," Asfar told students at a special assembly yesterday. "And it's also not good to think bad things about Muslims. If it is Muslims who did it, then it's not fair to blame all Muslims."
For the president, the quickly arranged visit (planning began at 6 p.m. Sunday) in defense of American Muslims contributed to two goals aside from the benefit of discouraging intolerance. It was part of an effort, urged by deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, to convince would-be partners overseas that the U.S. effort is not anti-Arab or anti-Islam but anti-terrorist.
At the same time, it buttressed Bush's image as a "compassionate conservative" and earned him praise from leaders of the nation's Muslim and Arab population. A White House official involved in the effort said the two goals are intertwined. "The president wanted to send a strong signal" to American Muslims, the official said, predicting it "certainly will reverberate around the world."
Yesterday's appearance by Bush follows a vigorous effort by his administration over the last week to discourage anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment. Bush aides arranged for an Islamic imam, Muzammil H. Siddiqi, to speak at last Friday's memorial at the National Cathedral. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Assistant Attorney General Ralph F. Boyd Jr. have met with Arab American leaders, and Ashcroft is scheduled to do so today.
Bush, Ashcroft and Powell have made it a point to defend Muslims and Arab Americans, and all have been careful not to use words such as "Islamic" or "Muslim" when describing the terrorists. The government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Civil Rights Commission issued statements calling for tolerance.
Islamic leaders say the administration's efforts, combined with a resolution in Congress calling for protection of the civil rights of Arab Americans and Muslims, have helped to limit violence and discrimination. "Americans have shown great maturity," said Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. "The number of support calls and visits to Islamic centers to show solidarity by far outnumber the nasty phone calls and attacks. This is what makes us proud to be Americans."
White House officials and Arab groups say there are about 6.5 million Muslims in the United States, fewer than a million of whom are Arabs. Of the roughly 3.5 million Arab Americans, 80 percent are Christian. While Arab Americans are influential in critical electoral states such as Michigan, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said Bush had little to gain politically. "They have a noble, moral reason, and also a reason with foreign policy consequences," he said.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington half a century ago. One of the country's oldest, the mosque is a familiar part of Washington's skyline, with its 160-foot minaret towering over Rock Creek where Massachusetts Avenue crosses it.
After a private meeting with Islamic leaders, Bush removed his shoes and entered the elaborately decorated sanctuary, with colorful Turkish tiles, an Egyptian chandelier and bookshelves full of copies of the Koran. A schedule of prayer times on the wall included a notation on September 11: "HAVE MERCY!"
Visiting between the noon and afternoon prayers, Bush spoke from a lectern in front of the qibla, the altar worshipers face when praying in the direction of Mecca. Over his left shoulder, written in Arabic, was the phrase: "In the name of Allah, the All Forgiving, the Most Compassionate."
Describing Muslims as doctors, lawyers, soldiers and parents, Bush demanded that they be treated respectfully. "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior," he said.
Bush had been scheduled to meet with prominent Islamic leaders in the White House last Tuesday, but the meeting was called off because of the terrorist strikes.
One of the Islamic leaders who was to have attended that meeting was Siddiqi, who came from Orange County, Calif. Stranded in Washington, Siddiqi was asked by Bush aides to speak at last Friday's memorial.
Siddiqi, who has returned to California, said he gives "great credit" to Bush for easing anti-Muslim emotions -- and said he is spreading that message through the Middle East in radio and television interviews in Arabic. "I'm telling them, yes, there's a concern," Siddiqi said. "But by and large this country is showing great maturity in a time of trial and pain."
Staff writer Hanna Rosin contributed to this report.