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Students beaten for being Palestinian

By Nicole Colson | February 2, 2007 | Pages 1 and 2

SEVERAL PALESTINIAN students were abused and beaten in an attack at a Greensboro, N.C., college that highlights the wave of racism against Arabs and Muslims.

As many as 15 members of the Guilford College football team used their fists, feet and brass knuckles in the assault on three Palestinian students, according to court documents. The Palestinian students were called "terrorists" and "sand niggers" as they were beaten.

"It was the most horrific experience of my life," one of the victims, Omar Awartani, a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who was visiting friends at Guilford, told the Greensboro News-Record. "This was a horrible, unprovoked hate crime."

Awartani reportedly suffered a concussion and broken jaw, and had trouble walking on his own for several days after the attack. Guilford student Faris Khader--an exchange student from Ramallah--suffered a concussion and broken nose, and fellow exchange student Osama Sabbah received a concussion and nerve damage to his hand.

So far, five football players have been charged with assault and ethnic intimidation, and the FBI has begun an investigation to determine if the attack was a hate crime.

Many students at Guilford--a small, liberal college with a Quaker tradition--reacted with outrage. A walkout from classes was organized last week in solidarity with the victims, and students are wearing T-shirts saying, "I don't feel safe here," and "Hate crimes happen at Guilford College."

The question of how such an incident could take place at a school that Newsweek last year singled out as "hottest for social conscience" has led some to label the attack as a case of "rampaging jocks."

But the rising tide of racism against Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. has led to an increase in hate crimes across the country. Last year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that hate crimes against Muslims rose 30 percent in 2005 to 1,972 reported incidents. A CBS poll found that that 45 percent of Americans now have a negative view of Islam--higher than immediately following the September 11 attacks.

Such bigotry--endorsed on a regular basis by politicians of both parties--has had real consequences.

In the Detroit area, several mosques and Shia-owned businesses have been vandalized in recent weeks, including one mosque covered with graffiti reading "Go home 9-11 murderers." Other mosques have been vandalized in Northern California, and one in Newark, N.J., was set on fire in what many suspect was a hate crime.

As Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the University of California at San Bernadino, told the Christian Science Monitor, "What we have here is a climate where Islamophobia is not only considered mainstream, it's considered patriotic by some, and that's something that makes these kinds of attacks even more despicable."

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