San Diego's Arabs and Moslems on 9-11

One year and fifteen days later

San Diego’s Arab and Islamic communities have mixed feelings about September 11, 2001. Some blame Osama bin Laden, some fault the United States, and still others blame all parties involved. With one exception, these speakers are naturalized U.S. citizens.

Waleed Yakou, 39, lives in El Cajon and has managed a liquor store in City Heights for 19 years. Yakou is a Catholic, which was reason enough to flee his native country 25 years ago.

“I’m Chaldean [Iraqi Catholic] and Babylonian. I was born in Iraq, near Baghdad. I believe the Arab nations are to blame for the crisis. The whole Middle East [crisis]. Who else? I don’t agree with the Muslim nations. I’m not prejudiced, but I don’t agree with them. Their religion is too aggressive. I don’t agree with their lifestyle. That’s why I’m here. My religion and freedom is why I’m here. As far as the U.S. policy, first they need to get rid of Saddam Hussein, number one. Second thing, they are doing a very good job. The United States needs to take care of the bunch of dictators that are running the Middle East. That’s the most important thing.”

Mohamed Mohamoud, 56, came to San Diego from Somalia, a coastal country on the eastern coast of Africa. The population is principally Sunni Muslim. He lives in Chollas View and studies computer engineering at UCSD. Mohamoud is reluctant to blame anyone specific for the attack on the World Trade Center.

“It was terrorists, but I don’t know who they are. I’m not yet convinced who they are. I cannot say if it is Osama bin Laden, but I don’t think it is. Afghanistan is a political issue. I am not a politician — you need to ask them. I know that the other Muslim nations are very much worried about what is going on. Now the situation with Palestine and the Israelis is very complex. Both are wrong. The Palestinians are wrong. Israel is wrong. They have to come together. Saddam Hussein — I can’t say about him. I think the United States policy towards the Middle East needs reform. It shows some sort of rigidness towards Islamic countries, so it needs some sort of reform. They should lay the groundwork for justice for the opposing sides.”

Baktiar Hamasaed, 39, was born in the Kurdistan area of Iraq but fled to the United States when Saddam Hussein came to power. The Kurds are a mountain people. These Sunni Muslims are divided into populations in Syria, Lebanon, and northern Turkey and Iraq. Hamasaed works as a cab driver and lives in Chula Vista. He minces no words about who is to blame for the current crisis.

“Osama bin Laden. I look at the other Muslim nations and — to be honest with you, I am a Muslim, and our religion does not teach you to destroy somebody else’s life or property. It doesn’t teach you to do bad things, it teaches you to do good things. What they did was unbelievable. Muslims never should do those things.

“The Palestinians are just like the Kurds, they are fighting for their lives. That’s what we’ve been doing for the last 50, 60 years. The Kurdish people tried to get their land back, and the Palestinians are doing the same thing. They should have their own state and their own land back and leave everybody to live in peace.

“The U.S. policy in the Middle East is good, but they never finish the job. They should have finished the job, and now they end up with more troubles and spending more money for nothing. If they had finished Saddam in 1991, they would not have the problem right now and everybody would live in peace.

“As far as the Palestinians, they [the U.S.] don’t do enough. Just talk and no actions. They know exactly what’s going on in Palestine, and they could do a lot better to have a better life in Palestine and Israel. A lot of people are killed for no reason. Every human being has a right to live on this earth as a normal human being and have a good life and a better place to raise your kids. There is no reason to fight.”

Ehsam Akbar, 42, moved to the United States from Afghanistan in 1997. He currently manages the Khyber Pass restaurant and lives in Kearny Mesa. Akbar is very guarded about blaming anyone for the current crisis between the U.S. and the Middle East.

“It is very hard to say. Probably al-Qaeda and those people are to blame. Hopefully the situation in Afghanistan is getting better. We are glad that the Taliban is gone, and we hope that very soon it will be back to normal. The United States helped us a lot.

“Palestine and Israel have had a problem for a long time. Everybody likes peace, and hopefully they will get back to normal and they won’t be blaming each side anymore. I don’t want to say [anything] about the U.S. policy toward Muslim nations; I don’t have that much information. I think the U.S. has tried to bring peace.”

Maheed Mosazeli won’t disclose her age. “I’m old enough!” She lives in Normal Heights, near the restaurant she owns and operates in University Heights. The daughter of an Iranian diplomat, Mosazeli spent several years in Afghanistan and moved to the United States 14 years ago.

“I don’t know who I blame for the attack and crisis. I think the United States is to blame for the attack more than anyone, because I think they have the ability to know what is going on in the whole world, so they should have known it was coming. I usually think that the United States can do anything. I was thinking that of course they are taking care of the crisis to the best of their ability.

“I think the United States can do something in Palestine. They are killing each other and nobody is doing anything, so that is why the people are so angry. I’ve traveled many places throughout the world, and the people are very angry with the United States’ policy. I believe that we have to listen to other people. It’s always one-sided. We don’t listen to other people, and they become very angry and crazy, so they probably do that kind of thing.

“But I was very happy with Afghanistan, because I was thinking we were helping them. They are very poor people, and they really need help after the long war with Russia, and it was very nice that we were helping them. But now, I don’t know. It is still not clear what is going on. I listen to the news very much, but I don’t know what is going on. It is very complicated. I feel that they [other Muslim nations] are angry because we are not helping the situation in Palestine — and even look what happened in Israel; they hurt the students! This is terrible!

“I feel that we can do anything. I blame some of the Muslim nations for these problems too. Some of them have too much money, and money is power, and they should do something; but it seems they are thinking only of themselves, not even their own people.” When asked if she is referring to the Saudis, she giggles. “Of course!” she replies.

Pierre Rouhane, 42, owns and operates a pita bread factory. He came to the United States from Lebanon in 1979 and now lives in Bonita. Rouhane calls himself a born-again Christian, and his beliefs have fostered an indifference toward politics.

“I don’t have any idea who is to blame for the attacks. I don’t blame anyone. I do my bread, and I am happy. I don’t believe in the Muslim religion. Israel and Palestine? It’s been going on for thousands of years before this time, so it’s not going to stop until Jesus comes. I think the United States’ policy will be changing a lot. Everyone knows my religion — every born-again Christian is going to tell you the same thing: There will be a lot of tough times. The Rapture is coming; Jesus is going to come and save us, and there will be an end to it after the fake peace between Israel and the Arab nations.”

Abu Hajid (not his real name) is 30 and came to the United States from Lebanon six years ago. A practicing Muslim, he asked that his real name and occupation not be published because of the problems he has faced at work since the 9/11 attacks. “Before that, I had lots of friends, but since then, they are no longer my friends.” Currently in the process of changing jobs, Hajid wanted his identity hidden so he could speak freely.

“Of course it was Osama bin Laden that is responsible. He did more harm to us [Muslims] than anybody in the world. He has killed innocent people. If you want to express your hatred, there are a lot of ways to express it, but not by killing innocent people. The thing is, he is hiding behind Islam, and nothing he did is according to Islam. What does he know about Islam? He doesn’t know anything about Islam, so how can he say he is a Muslim? He hates the United States because he once got money and support from them, and now that they have deserted him he did this. There is no justification for his actions, and Arabs in the United States are being blamed for his actions! I try to keep a low profile because of this. People ask me where I am from, and I tell them that I am half Greek and half Italian. Seriously! I don’t want anybody telling me about September 11, because it was like somebody putting a knife in my heart.

“The other Muslim nations are really corrupted. You can’t find a Muslim country that is not corrupted. Look at the presidents and leaders. If I was the president, then my son would be the next president. That is corruption!

“The U.S. policy is biased. I would love to see it change. I would like to see more — like the president says, ‘We need justice.’ And that’s what I want to see — justice. I’m against the Palestinian bombers, and I’m against what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people. When Israel occupied Lebanon, the United States bombed it. So who are we going to blame? The United States, right? When the U.S. embassy in Lebanon was bombed, how many Marines were killed there? I tell you what, about 150 or 160. Do you know how many Lebanese were killed or wounded? More than 2000!

“When I came to the United States and met the people here, they were the kindest people I ever met. The United States’ policy is making the Middle Eastern people, the Arab world, mad at America. I think the Jewish lobby that is ruling the United States is to blame — of course they’re going to support Israel, right? How many millions of dollars of our taxes are going to Israel to kill Palestinians and take them out of their country?

“I’m not saying all the Palestinians are good people. A lot of them are bad people, because they are killing innocent people. I’m not saying that killing people is good, but these young kids are bombing themselves. Why? Because they are so desperate. They see their people getting killed. They’re immature, they’re uneducated, they don’t know better, so they want revenge, so they go and bomb themselves to kill innocent people. I’m not saying this is good, because it is bad. But that’s what they are doing. There is a lot of pressure on them and there is no food, no education, and no freedom; and a lot of people are getting killed. So not knowing better, they bomb themselves and kill innocent people.

“Like I said, the Americans are the kindest people I have ever met, but they don’t know the truth. They ask me where Lebanon is, like I ride a camel! They don’t know, because the media here doesn’t show the truth of the Arab world and the Middle East. There is a lot of frustration from the people of the Middle East because they think that nobody’s telling the truth about them.”

Salam “Sam” Raza, 30, came to America from Afghanistan 22 years ago. He lives in Chula Vista, where he owns and operates a discount furniture store.

“I think bin Laden and his people are responsible [for 9/11], but it is being blamed on Afghanistan. People have the wrong notion and think Afghanistan had something to do with it because this creep was in our country. It had nothing to do with our country. They say, ‘Oh, those Afghan people,’ and this and that. The media has convinced Americans that people in Afghanistan are bad. My wife’s uncle owns the Khyber Pass restaurant, and he was getting bomb threats and other things after September 11 happened.

“It was a very, very unfortunate thing that happened, but if you lived in Afghanistan, there was nothing you could do, because the Taliban government kept them in such poverty. They beat and killed our people. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, and a lot of people don’t know that. They think that because he lived in Afghanistan that he is Afghan!

“Some people in the Muslim nations still have this stupid mentality where they are angry and they use religion and try to make this a holy war. I think the U.S. policy in the Middle East is very fair. I’m a practicing Muslim — not 100 percent practicing, but I practice.”

Fahd, 35, is a citizen of Kuwait who lives in La Jolla. He asked that his identity be hidden because he is a member of the Kuwaiti air force, taking his flight training in America. “I don’t need problems with the embassy.” Fahd believes that there is plenty of blame for everyone to share for the 9/11 crisis.

“I think the situation is a failure of diplomacy. Every country is looking for their own benefit. If you come to Kuwait, to my home, and meet my mother, she is not reading, not writing. She is an old woman, and she loves the United States — not the government, but the people. We believe that the government of the United States is controlled by people who favor Israel.

“I spent almost three hours watching the news today. If you go to Fox News, they are saying everything that is bad about Arab countries. If you go to any channels, they are saying bad things about Arab countries, but no good things. If there are no good things in Arab countries, then why are so many American people staying and working in these countries and coming back with no problem? The news in the United States does not say the good things about us, only the bad things.

“When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you do? You wash your face. But there are some people here in the United States who, when they wake up, wash their feet first, then their face. What I mean is that they don’t look to their problems here.

“I respect the Bible and I read it. I found many things that are good. If you are looking at the Koran — not from one angle, but from each side — it doesn’t say to kill people. It says in the Koran that if you kill yourself for any reason, you will go to hell. You will never get out of hell. You will not be going to heaven, and you will stay in hell forever.

“And here is something weird. If you look from 1990 until 2002, every September when the weather gets cold, there is some problem coming in the Middle East. Think about it. Can the Americans fight during July and August in the desert, with temperatures rising so high? Every time the weather gets cold, something happens in the Middle East. Americans make problems! The government makes problems to distract Americans from their own problems. This is the situation.

“And Saddam, he should be dead. He should have been killed in 1991. But they keep him! Why? Believe me, there is no problem to kill him, but they want him to stay. If the U.S. government wanted to kill him, they would have done it a long time ago! They can kill him anytime they want.

“I want the U.S. to look at the good things in the Koran. They want to talk about Mohammed, well, one of his neighbors was Jewish, and Mohammed treated him very good. He respected his Jewish neighbor.

“The Palestinian government should change. How? That’s very difficult because these people [Yasser Arafat and the PLO] are stuck in these positions, and if they leave, they will lose so many things. They will not change. A couple of months ago a solution was found, but [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon destroyed everything. Like Saddam, Sharon is a killer. Anybody who has made that many mistakes and comes and says, ‘Now I will be good guy’ — you can’t trust him. [Former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak just about reached a solution, but after that, everything was destroyed by Sharon. There are so many people in control of governments for their own benefit. I am a rich man. Do you think I want to be a president of a country? That would be a waste of my time.”

Mustafa Darwish, 62, was born in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel), and has lived in America since 1969. A retired welder, he lives in El Cajon.

“It seems to me like Osama bin Laden is responsible [for 9/11], but we must find out the truth before we do anything. So far, it looks like we put the finger on him.

“The Muslim nations have some very hard-line people who scream against the United States government. They are going a different way than the original Muslim beliefs. They make it so hard — they scream — they go so far out of Islam. Islam is really a religion of peace. We believe in Jesus, in Moses, and all of that. We are never against anyone who has the Book, which means anyone who is Christian and anyone who is Jewish. We cannot attack anybody, especially those two religions that have the Book. But some Muslims go further and change the meaning.

“The poor people also became unsettled with their government, with their lives, so who do they find? Osama bin Laden. And who do they blame? Us. The Americans.

“I cannot say what the president of the United States should do. I know there is some problem with Israel and the Palestinians. I was there when it became Israel. The United States should stand with the Arabs and Israel. When Eisenhower stood with the Egyptians in 1956, when the English, French, and Israel attacked Egypt, nobody hated America. We should not help building the war machine of Israel. The president says that Israel has to defend itself. This is not defense. This is attack! I am not saying we should not help Israel, but help Palestine too. Don’t forget about the Palestinian Muslims. They are under siege.

“I call my family in Jordan sometimes and talk to people in the Middle East. They can’t even go out for bread sometimes, because they are under 24 hours curfew. For what? Over one million people under curfew! If you want to stop the suicide bombs, stop the hunger. To make peace, we must begin to look at both sides.”

Halima Ahued, 20, came to San Diego from Somalia seven years ago. She currently lives in City Heights and attends City College. Like many Middle Eastern immigrants, she is reluctant to blame anyone for the current crisis.

“I don’t know who is responsible. I can’t judge anybody. Whoever is doing it is responsible! I think the United States needs to work together with other countries to settle down what is going on. I think if the Muslim nations are doing something wrong, then they should stop and change. They need to do whatever is right for all the countries. If the United States is doing the wrong thing, then they should stop too. I don’t usually watch the news.”

Khaled Areiqat, 30, was born in Jerusalem. He now lives in El Cajon and works as a taxi driver.

“It could be the foreign policy of the United States towards the Middle East [that caused 9/11]. It’s a big question to blame somebody. Just think about it this way. Why don’t the people of the Middle East feel anything toward France or Sweden or Germany? I mean, they’re large countries. Why don’t the Middle Eastern countries dislike them? It’s because what they see on TV is F-16s bombing the people in Palestine and tanks rolling into Palestine and destroying everything, using American weapons. They know it’s free too. They [Israel] didn’t even purchase it; we just gave it to them. That’s why you see this action toward the United States.

“It’s very clear the United States’ policy is to take the side of Israel. I would just like to see it balanced. If you think of peace and fairness, then don’t let the Congress pressure the government. I mean, the Congress is 60 percent pro-Israel, and they pressure the whole government to take that side without giving any chance to the Palestinians. If you watch the news, you will see people of Gaza starving, and no country can object because the United States is backing Israel all the way. Anytime they go for peacekeeping troops, the whole world votes for it, except the United States, who say no because Israel doesn’t want it. So why you don’t want peace people to go there to separate both sides?

“We pay taxes here, and the taxes go over there to shoot my brothers and the rest of my family. I have a cousin who was just on top of his building, peeking to see what was going on in the street, and he got shot in the head. They called them rubber-coated bullets — it killed him. He was only 16 or 17 years old. He didn’t do anything, and a sniper got him. Then when something happens to Israel — yes, they are dying too — but why don’t they show you the pictures of the 80 percent of over 2000 children who were killed during this intifada? They don’t show you anything of what is happening to the Palestinians. Why? Because the media cannot do that. They can show only what they are told to show.”

Qais Sekendary, 42, lives in Carmel Mountain Ranch and works as a cab driver. He came to the United States from Afghanistan 12 years ago. (“Afghanistan is not in the Middle East — it is Asia!”)

“I don’t know who is to blame. But I don’t believe in what happened on 9/11. It is wrong. I am not sure, but most of the people of Osama bin Laden would like to do that, but nobody knows. But I hope somebody gets this guy, believe me. The people in the Muslim countries do not like war. I hope there is peace with Palestine and Israel. I hope the United States’ policy will change — change for peace. I don’t think the United States will start a war. I know that Americans want peace, but there are people who don’t want peace. Most people want peace. Right? No war. Yeah.”

Bilal H., 24, is a taxi driver living in City Heights. He came to San Diego from Somalia ten years ago.

“My opinion is that evildoers are to blame. I don’t know who is behind that. It may be bin Laden, but I don’t believe whatever I see on TV. I wasn’t there when it happened.

“The other Muslim nations? I don’t mind if the United States blames nations by name. But they should not label them by religion. For instance, when the Oklahoma bombing took place, nobody ever called Timothy McVeigh a Christian extremist or Christian fundamentalist. When Middle Eastern nations help the United States, they are not labeled as Muslim nations, but by name only — you know, ‘Afghanistan is cooperating’ or ‘Indonesia is cooperating,’ but not ‘Muslim nations are cooperating.’

“Even the war in Palestine and Israel is not about religion, it’s about land. I would like to see the U.S. work towards peace as they claim to, rather than— everybody knows that all that equipment and weapons that demolish Palestinian houses are made in the United States. We say that Israel is our ally. Why don’t we just make Palestine our ally too and make everything peaceful?”

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