Some Arabs in U.S. change names

Thursday, March 21, 2002

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Tariq Hasan will henceforth be known as Terry Hasan.

The 35-year-old Pakistani-born financial worker is among a small but growing number of people across the nation going to court to change their names to less Arabic-sounding ones since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Many cite incidents of bias and harassment or fear they could be targeted because the attacks were carried out by Muslim extremists.

"I notice a change in people's demeanor when I tell them my name is Tariq," said Hasan, who lives in Hoboken, directly across the Hudson River from where the World Trade Center once stood. "They may be thinking, 'Oh, you're one of them.' Who knows what could happen to me?"

A San Diego man who is serving in the Navy went to the courthouse two days after the Sept. 11 attacks to change his name from Mohamad to Michael.

On the form where he was asked to state the reason for the change, he scrawled, "Stereotype, discrimination and prejudice against my name."

In Mira Mesa, Calif., a man once named Bedir is now Mark. "I do not want an Arabic-sounding name anymore," he wrote on his application.

In Secaucus, N.J., Isam Abu Zaid is changing his name to Sam Paul St. Germain. He said he wants to take the name of the woman who adopted him years ago, but also "to avoid the discrimination that his name gives him."

"It's happening all over," said Ra'id Faraj, a spokesman for the Council on Islamic-American Relations of Southern California.

Some Arab-American groups claim that adopting a new name sends exactly the wrong message after Sept. 11: that all Arabs are associated with terrorism, or somehow have something to hide or be ashamed of.

"This is really a shame," said Hani Awadallah, president of the Arab-American Civic Organization in Paterson, where the community is still smarting from abuse it took after it became known that at least six of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived there. "You're admitting some kind of guilt, which is not the case. This shows no guts, courage or manhood."

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