When reports emerged that some of the hijackers behind the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center were from the Middle East, Dolly Chammaa began to worry about whether the Lebanese restaurant she and several family members run would become a target.
"Some people came in and were begging me to put the (American) flag outside," said Chammaa, a Lebanese native who came to the U.S. in 1991.
But Old Glory wasn't flying outside Sunnin Lebanese Cafe in Westwood last week.
"It would show some support but it won't protect me," Chammaa said. "If they're going to hurt me, they're going to hurt me."
Like other Arab-Americans in the area, she was concerned about reports of attacks against Middle Easterners. The incidents ranged from insults and vandalism to more serious acts of violence, including the shooting death of an Egyptian storeowner in nearby San Gabriel that authorities were investigating as a potential hate crime.
While shops and restaurants throughout Los Angeles have suffered a decline in activity since the attacks, Middle Eastern business owners have had to cope with additional problems, such as losing regulars who fear they will become targets of a backlash.
"(My sister) thought they were going to attack the restaurant because everyone knows we're Lebanese," said Chammaa, who points out she and her family chose to become American citizens.
Her sister, Nicole, said many of their customers have been supportive and there have been only a couple of negative incidents at Sunnin, none more serious than boys hurling insults from a nearby bus stop. While the restaurant has continued doing a brisk business, she worried that some might be afraid to frequent Arab establishments.
The Gypsy Cafe in nearby Westwood Village, where customers are normally found drinking coffee and puffing on hookahs late into the night, has recently seen its Middle Eastern clientele shrink, according to Joseph Melamed, who runs the cafe.
"It was going OK, OK, until a television (crew) came here and they did an interview," he said. "The next day, we didn't get even one Arab coming here because they got scared."Layoffs possible
Melamed said he is considering cost reductions, including layoffs, and spending more on advertising to deal with the drop in business. Usually open past 1 a.m. on weeknights, Gypsy closed at 11 p.m. on Wednesday.
"I feel the sadness in all my customers," said Melamed, a native of Iran. "They don't know what to say."
Many Americans of Middle Eastern descent are scared and trying to lay low, said Nidal Ibrahim, editor and publisher of Arab-American Business Magazine, a Huntington Beach-based monthly.
"There is a tremendous amount of fear and apprehension in the community right now," he said. "A lot of people aren't going out unless they absolutely have to."
Lunching with friends at Sunnin, Mowaffaq Alssaqqat, a Saudi studying in the U.S., said he has not been going out much lately. "For the past week, I had to stay home," he said, adding he is worried people will connect him to the attacks because prime suspect Osama bin Laden is also a Saudi.
"I don't go anywhere, especially not to Arabic places," Mowaffaq said. "I had to think before coming to this place."Call for calm
While President Bush and other officials have encouraged the public to refrain from an Arab-American backlash, Gov. Gray Davis, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and others met last week in Monterey Park to discuss ways to prevent violence against Arabs and Muslims.
The Los Angeles County Human Relations Council informed local law enforcement officials of mosques, Islamic schools and other locales that might require greater protection. "Let's not make ourselves terrorists because of what terrorists have done," said Robin Toma, executive director of the commission.
Despite the appeals, Toma said, "there's no question that this is going to impact the Arab-American business community."
But Nasser Beydoun, executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, said it was too soon to tell whether Arab business owners would see a greater downturn than anybody else.
"Everything is slow right now. You really can't gauge it because people are affixed to their TVs," he said.
On a recent weekday morning, it was quiet at The Sultan restaurant in downtown L.A. No one perused the menu on the wall, which is decorated with travel posters of Lebanon and a clock featuring the Lebanese flag.
"It has gone down about 40 percent," said one of the employees, adding that businesses throughout the area have lost customers since the attack. "There are people but no one is buying."
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