SEATTLE — For many Americans who say they have deeply believed that it was wrong for law enforcement officers to single out members of minorities for special interrogation or searches, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 have prompted a painful confrontation with the sudden anxieties they acknowledge feeling in the presence of one minority in particular.
With all of the roughly 20 hijackers involved the attacks believed to have Arab backgrounds, these Americans say, the police and the FBI have ample reason to zero in on that group. "It's not right," said Virginia Hawthorne, a retired accountant from Bremerton, Wash., "but it's justified."
Such sentiments seem to have been in play on Thursday in Minneapolis when three men were denied permission to board a Northwest Airlines flight to their homes in Salt Lake City after several passengers complained of their presence, an airline spokesman said. The men were later permitted to take a Delta flight.
While expressing regret at what they portrayed as the need for more detailed interrogations of people of Arab background, many people said the subjects of such extra attention should understand and accept the reasons for it.
"They shouldn't be offended," said Leslie Brenaman, a retired graphics designer, who is white. "They shouldn't take it personally after what's happened."
But Nadeem Salem, head of the Association of Arab Americans in Toledo, Ohio, said such views are offensive. "Think what it really means," said Salem, a second-generation American. "People's civil liberties are being tarnished, compromised. That's not what this country is all about."
Wali Khairzada, owner of Kabul Afghan Cuisine, a Seattle restaurant, said he felt heartsick about a decision he made the other day: not to take his father-in-law, who is German, to the airport for his flight home.
"It makes me feel sad, but I feel I should stay away," said Khairzada, who was born in Afghanistan, received asylum in the late 1970s and became an American citizen in 1986. "I would be checked there far more thoroughly than the average person." On the other hand, he added, he had been buoyed by racial profiling of a different sort. "So many people have come in to the restaurant to offer some support," Khairzada said. "I'm amazed, I'm grateful, I'm flabbergasted."
Ashraf Khan, 32, a mobile phone salesman from New Braunfels, Texas, was bound for his brother's wedding in Pakistan when he was ordered off a Delta flight out of San Antonio. Delta offered to book him on a later flight, but by that time Khan had missed his connecting flight across the Pacific and, as a result, the wedding.
"I am really depressed about the whole situation," he said, "the way they've treated me, like I'm some sort of criminal."