DEARBORN (AP) – For a while after the Sept. 11 attacks, the
Fadlallahs thought of leaving.

But realistically, that was never an option.

This city of 100,000, where the main streets are home to Ford
Motor Co. and the slew of shops crowned by bilingual Arabic and
English signs, is where Susan and Imad Fadlallah and their four
children feel they belong.

“There’s a sense of loyalty because what this country gave us,
our homeland failed to provide,” said Imad, who immigrated in the
1970s from Lebanon and now is the principal at Stout Middle School
in Dearborn.

The United States “gave us a sense of hope,” added Susan, a
successful pharmacist who also came from Lebanon in the mid 1970s
and whose father, Nabih Berry, is that country’s parliamentary
speaker.

The Lebanon they left behind was one mired in civil war. The
conflict gave the Fadlallahs what they see as a deeper
understanding of the United States’ founding principles.

“Here, you have an appreciation for human rights,” said Susan.
“There’s an understanding and respect that we’re all different and
it’s OK to be different.”

But Sept. 11 raised questions about that belief for the
couple.

In an interview three months after the terrorist attacks, Imad
said he feared being caught up in the Justice Department
investigation that included the detention of about 1,200 Muslims
and Arabs, interviews with 5,000 others and the passing of the USA
Patriot Act, which gives the government broad powers to monitor
citizens. Thoughts of leaving entered their mind.

But after the December 2001 interview, letters from around the
country came in. Of 20 letters, 19 urged them to stay. They said
“Don’t lose faith,” and “This is still a good country.” Only one,
laced with expletives, said, “Go home.”

They showed “the good people, the real Americans, were still out
there, even with all the negative publicity” about Islam and Arabs,
said Imad.

Since then, the Fadlallahs, like many other Arab Americans, are
“day by day trying to do our part to change both the perception
about Muslims in this country, the religion as a whole and about
the region,” said Susan.

They do it in part to help their children and to give something
back to their adopted country.

“We’re going to be leaving behind our most precious possession
in life – our children,” said Susan, referring to Silan, 4, Rima,
10, Ali, 15, and Mahmoud, 19, a senior at the University.

“They were born and raised in this country. To them, this is
home. What kind of home are they going to have, though, if people
still look at us with suspicion?”

Shortly after the attacks, “I didn’t know how to deal with the
people around me,” recalled Susan.

Almost two years later, the fear came again, this time ushered
in by the Aug. 14 blackouts that plunged millions of people across
eight states and Canada into darkness.

“Not again,” Imad thought. “I still feel that if, God forbid,
something else happens … I want to say, I fear for my
freedom.”

Eliminating Osama bin Laden doesn’t put to rest the fears of
another attack, said Imad.

“America has a responsibility to the world and that doesn’t end
with eliminating a group of extremists. … The only way to put out
a fire and keep it out is to find out what caused it,” he said.

Imad says he just wants to see “a great country get even
better.”

The Fadlallahs say one of their greatest frustrations comes when
some assume their allegiance lies with the Arab world simply
because of their heritage.

“I don’t have to put an American flag on my front porch to show
I’m patriotic,” says Imad. “Patriotism in this country is working
hard, educating your kids, doing everything you can to pursue the
true American dream of liberty, freedom and justice.”

“If this country is attacked again, we’ll be on the front lines
defending it,” he said. “But superficial displays of patriotism
don’t get you anywhere.”

For the couple, the Sept. 11 attacks reaffirmed the need for
more awareness of both what it means to be American and Arab and
Muslim. At Stout, where 60 percent of the students are Arab, Imad
tries to lead by example.

“I love the job I do,” he says, “mainly because I think (the
students) see hope in me. They see a future when they come to that
school.”

His wife says when they went to Lebanon over the summer, a
Yemeni man filled in for her at the Detroit pharmacy she owns. When
he was a child many years ago, he arrived in the United States and
enrolled at Stout without being able to speak a word of
English.

“He’s a pharmacist now,” Imad said, his face beaming with
pride.

“Our hope is that one of these days, these children can take a
stand and defend the true meaning of American democracy,” she
said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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