As reported incidents of hate crimes began to file in after September 11, Arab Americans and Muslims living in Chicago braced themselves for the anticipated climate of discrimination and violence.
Mosques, Arab community centers, and Arab-owned businesses were vandalized, women and girls wearing the traditional Muslim head covering, the hijab, were harassed and assaulted, and a Moroccan man in Bridgeview, a suburb of Chicago with a large Arab and Muslim population, was spat on by two people and then attacked with a machete. Also in Bridgeview, a mob of jingoistic Americans attempted to march on the neighborhood mosque with sticks and bats before they were stopped by state and local police.
But on the southwest side of the city, activists from a broad range of ethnicities, nationalities, and religious faiths decided to fight back with messages of peace and unity. The Arab American Action Network, the Southwest Youth Collaborative, the Chicago Islamic Center, Inner-city Muslim Action Network, the Southwest Organizing Project, Metropolitan Family Services, and others organized in solidarity and fellowship with the Arab and Muslim community.
From these forces came the idea for a "Circle of Peace," a gathering of community residents to form an arc around the local Al-Qassam Mosque during the regular Juma’a prayer on Friday, the Islamic holy day. Carrying signs of support in English, Spanish, and Arabic, the "circle" intended to protect the mosque and its parishioners from acts of hatred and violence.
The idea was endorsed in other areas of the city, leading to a widespread campaign of cross-cultural dialogue and projects for peace and justice. "We must grab this momentum," said Jeremy Lahoud, one of the organizers of the defense, "and use it as the impetus for city and nationwide struggles for racial and social justice."
Hatem Abudayyeh is executive director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago.