The first day after 9-11 my Shashwati and I, worried by stories we had heard about a racist backlash, went to eat at our local Afghan kabob house to show our support. Knowing that most people would not know that the large picture of the King set them apart from the Taliban, the owners had draped the largest Afghan flag they could find in the window. Three years later the Afghan restaurant seems to be doing better than ever. But then again we live in one of the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the United States. It seems that around the country Middle Eastern restaurants, especially those run by Iraqis, have been hit hard by the war. Interestingly, one of the reasons is that Iraqi’s themselves are afraid to be seen together in public:
In 1999 there were dozens of Iraqi eateries in the US. Today, less than a handful remain. Their names, once exotic curiosities, are now familiar to Americans only as the battlegrounds sites for the ongoing war: Taste of Mosul, Abu Nawas, Najaf Treat, and Babylon Bistro.
In response to declining business, many restaurants changed their names so they were more ambiguous: “Iraqi Cuisine” in Los Angeles became “Middle Eastern Cuisine.” In Dearborn, Mich., “Taste of Mosul” is now “Taste of Arabia.”
However, even in Dearborn, home to the largest Iraqi population in the US, people avoided the association that came with eating at Middle Eastern eateries.
“I think Arab people here were afraid to be seen together,” says one Dearborn restaurant owner who asked to remain anonymous. “People would see a large group of Middle Eastern people, even if they were just eating dinner, and assume the worst.”
And no wonder, it seems that even a Vietnam Vet, a former U.S. Marine, can have “his livelihood of 28 years taken away from him by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security” just for driving while Muslim.