By Jackie Bong-Wright
Another common concern were the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It showed that a new war of ethnic and religious differences have taken place not only within the U.S. borders but also all over the world globally. As a consequence, just a week after the terrible disaster happened, 350 hate crimes against Arab Americans in different states were being reported by the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations. These attacks ranged from verbal harassment to physical assaults. Dozens of mosques were fire-bombed or vandalized was well. Sikhs, wearing turbans and beards, who are neither Arab nor Muslim, were mistakenly attacked.
These incidents prompted President George W. Bush, who called himself a compassionate conservative, to visit a mosque in Washington D.C. to dispel the sentiments that the U.S. effort made was anti-terrorist, and not anti-Arab or anti-Islam.
Islamic leaders said that the administration’s efforts, combined with a resolution in Congress calling for protection of the civil rights of Arab Americans and Muslims, helped to limit violence and discrimination. This was a grand gesture that had resounding positive consequenses on the national level. In Virginia where diverse ethnic groups reside, tensions have mounted in the Mason District/Annandale area the past recent years.
In May 2001, a resident of Annandale wrote to Penny Gross, Mason District Supervisor, saying that she felt disgusted to see that Korean shopping centers had transformed her neighborhood with bad smell, noise, foreign signs, and movement of people at all times of day and night. She asked that the loitering ordinance be enforced. In August 2001, another person wrote to the Fairfax County Government, the Health Department, the Health Hazards Division, and the Housing Department to ask that they correct the situation of her Vietnamese neighbors. He complained that they were overcrowding in their three-bedroom house, that they smoke and drink, that they don’t speak English, that they generate crime, that they break the county’s laws, and wonder where they get their money from?
The two letters mentioned above were just a few from the multitude of verbal and/or written complaints Mason District receive every day. This situation motivated the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to adopt the Human Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in the County, and establish the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission in 1974. Alarmed with the tone and attitude of public and private discourse, Mason District Supervisor, Penny Gross, established in 1998 Kaleidoscope, a civic dialogue group that meets monthly to discuss diversity in the community. It hopes to accomplish the task of developing ways to bridge communication between new immigrants and long-term residents. Issues discussed include customs and traditions of different cultures, human rights, immigration issues, day laborers, etc.