Bay Ridge

Brooklyn’s Arab, Muslim communities uneasy about Syria

September 3, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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As leaders of both parties in Congress endorsed President Obama’s call for action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, leaders of Brooklyn’s Arab and Muslim communities commented on the tense situation.

The Arab community in Brooklyn is centered in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, with many others living in Bensonhurst and nearby areas. Cobble Hill, known for its Arabic restaurants and stores such as Sahadi’s, is also a commercial center for the Arabic community.

Bay Ridge alone, according to the Brooklyn Arab-American Friendship Center, has an Arab-American population of 200,000 people from many countries. Contrary to stereotypes, not all Arab-Americans are Muslim – many, especially Lebanese, are Christian. Bay Ridge has the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, while Brooklyn Heights has the Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral.

The Muslim population in Brooklyn includes probably the majority of the Arab-American population, plus members of other immigrant groups. In particular, the area around Coney Island Avenue in Midwood has about 30,000 Pakistani-Americans.

Linda Sarsour, president of the Bay Ridge-based Arab-American Association of New York, said in a statement, “Intervention in Syria affects many in the region, including Palestinians and Lebanese. Many people in our area are worried about more unnecessary causalities and potentially another failed attempt — Iraq and Afghanistan as examples.

“But people also have seen too many dead bodies and suffering in Syria and want action. Understandable. People are feeling conflicted and questioning U.S. interests.”

Habib Joudeh, a pharmacy owner in Bay Ridge, said, “I hope that they can try diplomacy. There has to be a discussion.” While the situation in Syria is terrible, he said, there are conflicting claims on both sides.

Nezar Yabroudi, a local Syrian-American who lives in Bay Ridge, said that most people in the community – whether Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni or members of other ethnic groups —  support U.S. intervention. “People are being killed every day,” he said. The only people who might support Assad, he said, are members of Assad’s own ethnic groups, the Alawaites.

One thing all three agreed upon is that the situation will not lead to heightened prejudice in the general community against Arabs and Muslims, such as what happened after 9/11.

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