Thursday, March 20, 2003

Local Iraqi-American feels the glares

'She accused me of being a terrorist'

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Doaa Jasim, one of the few residents of Greater Cincinnati who are of Iraqi descent, studies for an American history exam at UC.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
She's a native of Iraq who walks an emotional tightrope as a United States citizen.

As war looms, Doaa Jasim, a third-year University of Cincinnati student, hears that her grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in Baghdad are living under one roof. The arrival of American troops will mean their demise, Jasim's relatives in Iraq predict.

Jasim also has "Muslim guy friends" in the U.S. military who are willing to follow President Bush's commands.

Yet, as she worries about family and friends, she feels the glares from strangers on the street. After Sept. 11, some people pulled their T-shirts over their heads to mock her hijab, a scarf that symbolizes a woman's modesty. For a while, she refused to walk alone across UC's campus.

"Go back to your country!" some screamed. "You don't belong here! Take off that rag!"

UC's spring break arrives Friday, and Jasim wants to do nothing more than rush back to her Northside apartment, slam her door and shut the world away.

She sees both Bush and Saddam Hussein refusing to back down.

"I'm just praying for peace and to help the innocent people not die and ... for my family to be safe," said the petite woman, cracking her knuckles as she spoke.

"I'm really, really scared. I'm truly afraid. Because we wear the scarf, they automatically think we're Muslims and terrorists. Even though I lived here all my life."

Greater Cincinnati is home to about 15,000 Muslims. They hail from Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. In the 2000 Census, only 18 identified themselves as being of Iraqi descent.

Talk of war has already triggered weeks of discomfort for Jasim. During a recent debate in a UC classroom, Jasim said she couldn't support a war that could mean the death of innocent American and Iraqi children.

Still, a classmate lashed out at her, saying, "You're a Muslim. What about you and your terrorism?"

That shocked Jasim.

"I was actually going to walk out of class. I was so flaming mad that she actually accused me of being a terrorist," Jasim said.

America is her country, she stressed. She spent only one month in Iraq before moving with her parents to America.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell made a case for war before the United Nations Security Council some weeks ago, Jasim cried.

"I'm just worried and scared, that's it," she said. "This is my country. I wish I could show the public that I'm a normal person. I'm not pro-America or against America. I'm just against the war."


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