Turkish-born student cites ethnic concerns

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Mustafa Stokely received a death threat on his answering machine after terrorists attacked the East Coast.

An anonymous man threatened to "cap" the Southeast Missouri State University senior who lives in a Cape Girardeau apartment.

Stokely, 39, also has heard disparaging remarks from some students, who mistakenly view him as an anti-American Arab. He recently overheard a female student tell her friends in expletive-laced language that all "foreigners" should leave the United States.

Stokely has long, dark, curly hair and a thick beard and mustache. He was born in Istanbul, Turkey, but has been a U.S. citizen since birth. His father was in the Navy. His mother is Turkish. His parents have since divorced.

Stokely has lived in the United States most of the time since he was 16. He served in the U.S. Army in the early 1980s, which included a stint in Germany along the East German border. He then served in the Army Reserve, concluding his service three years ago. He was among reservists called up for the Gulf War in 1991, and was stationed in Washington for 14 months.

The casual observer doesn't know all that, and Stokely is worried about Americans who identify all dark-haired men with dark complexions as potential terrorists.

He fears the United States will go overboard with security measures such as national ID cards and wholesale detention of Arabs.

"This is what scares me," said Stokely, who believes personal liberty is the foundation of America.

"If a person is a good person, why should nationality matter?" said Stokely as he ate lunch at the University Center on Monday afternoon.

Stokely, who describes himself as a non-practicing Muslim, said he knows international students at Southeast who are afraid of being singled out by angry Americans.

"They are scared for their own personal safety," said Stokely, who admits he too is uneasy about being targeted for his ethnic background.

At least 45 students left the University of Missouri due at least partly to threats of violence. None of Southeast's international students, including eight from the Middle East, have left school.

He thinks the university administration should take a more public stand in support of cultural diversity to help prevent a backlash against students of foreign backgrounds.

But Art Wallhausen, associate to the president at Southeast, said the administration through its international program has defended cultural diversity on campus.

"It is our mission, hopefully, to educate people," he said.

Southeast hosted a forum on terrorism last week during which professors discussed the true meaning of Islam -- peace -- and allowed students to air their concerns. There are more forums scheduled.

Stokely said prejudice existed in Cape Girardeau even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Stokely, who attended Southeast off and on in the 1990s, said he was pulled over by a Cape Girardeau policeman in 1990 after leaving a grocery store because of a report of a "suspicious-looking foreigner."

Said Stokely: "It's more humiliating than anything. It's like a dull ache. It hurts."


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