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DOUBLY PAINED <br> U.S. ARABS' DUAL IDENTITY ADDS TO ANGUISH

Othman Shibly is a man who loves two lands: his adopted country and the one he left behind.

It is this dual identity that causes him anguish as he, like other Arab-Americans here, grapples with the terrorist attack in this land and the subsequent waging of war in the region he once called home.

Shibly and many other Middle Eastern natives condemn the terrorist attacks, yet they are doubly pained. They believe the fury behind the attacks is rooted in an American foreign policy that has been "very biased" against the Middle East, said Shibly, a University at Buffalo professor who grew up in Lebanon and Syria.

Shibly and other local Arab-Americans recite a long list of what they regard as transgressions in the Middle East that have fueled hatred of the United States. This includes America's position in the Soviet-Afghan war, support for the Shah of Iran and the impact of the Iraqi sanctions on an already impoverished general populace.

But they focus most of their anger on the American role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"America has been very biased" in favor of Israel, said Shibly, asserting that Palestinians are dying at the hands of Israeli "terrorists."

"Yet America closes its eyes," he said. "If we're going to fight terrorists, let's fight them all."

Zack Alwasim, a Yemenite who has lived in Buffalo for two years, is equally impassioned.

"The Israelis are killing your parents in front of your eyes," he said of Muslims in the Middle East. "The U.S. has got to change its policy in the Middle East."

Abdulla Al-Jandari, a bilingual teacher at Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo, agrees.

"If (the United States wants) to get involved, do it the right way or don't do it at all," he said. "It should be fair and not one-sided."

Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., has many grievances against the United States, chief among them using Saudi Arabia -- the Muslim holy land -- as a staging ground during the Persian Gulf War, and America's support of secular leaders in the Middle East.

But it's not surprising many Arab-Americans focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because it has been part of their lives for more than five decades, said Erick Duchesne, a UB assistant professor of political science.

"The conflict in the Middle East has been going on since the creation of Israel" in 1948, Duchesne said. "(Arabs) are going to look at the situation with tainted glasses. Israelis will do the same."

The Jewish and Muslim communities have both suffered during the drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Lana Benatovich, executive director of the Western New York Conference for Community and Justice.

"People do have different experiences, but we have a commonality of loss for Jews and Muslims in the Middle East," she said.

New fears

Following President Bush's address to the nation Thursday, there was new fear among some local Arab-Americans that the United States is escalating tensions by not pursuing a nonmilitary solution.

They fear a broader attack will kill innocent civilians and convince the Muslim world that America doesn't value Muslim lives.

"Many Arab-Americans pray there is no need for war," said Khalid Bibi, a Palestinian-American who is a Canisius College professor. "We can bomb the hell out of those kids over there, and their kids, or we can sit down and say, we have a problem. War will only bring more war. Instead of spending billions of dollars to blow up buildings and people, catch the (terrorists), then help and feed the rest."

Shibly said Bush should give Afghanistan's Taliban the evidence it has asked for about bin Laden's alleged involvement in the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. This would prevent unnecessary bloodshed, he says.

"You have to value the life of civilians over there and our military," he said.

Difficult situation for Arabs

Bibi, who is of Palestinian descent, came to America in 1980 and still has family in the Middle East. His parents, who now live in Jordan, come here every two years, and he goes to see them every three years.

He loves the culture of the Middle East, but the United States, he said, "has become my only home. I love America."

For Bibi, the long-term solution is for more Arab-Americans to become involved in establishing U.S. foreign policy.

"We will work within the laws established to change the policies we don't like," he said.

Shibly also goes back to visit his family in Syria frequently. He says he fell in love with the United States shortly after coming here to study at UB, which subsequently offered him a job.

He said he is sometimes asked, when he goes back to Syria, why he stays in America. He says he always defends the United States to those critics.

"I tell them I love my country," he said. "I tell them sometimes (Americans) do something wrong, but I love my country."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com and mpasciak@buffnews.com

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