Toledo loves Arabs
A hateful message brings a community together
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“I’m just going to live my life and I’m not going to live in fear. I mean, I did at first, but now I’m not.” These strong words were said by fourth-year University of Toledo student Malak Ayache, whose house was vandalized just last week in what the Sylvania Police report referred to as “ethnic intimidation.”
Born and raised in Toledo, Ayache said she is accustomed to the diversity the community offers. She said she has lived in her neighborhood since 1999 and has never feared for her safety.
At 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Ayache pulled into her driveway, and it was then she encountered the hateful graffiti that had been spray-painted on her garage door. The message included the cursing of Arabs and a swastika drawn on their house on Cinnamon Teal Court in Sylvania.
“I freaked out and I was instantly in tears,” Ayache said. “I was like, ‘Is this even my house?’”
Ayache’s family did file a police report over the incident but has also been reaching out to the community. She said she posted a picture of the graffiti on Facebook after the incident and instantly received support from friends, family and even people outside of the Toledo community.
“After reading the comments I was like, ‘You know what, Toledo loves Arabs,’” Ayache said.
That’s what inspired her to take this hateful message and instead respond with a message of love and acceptance.
“This incident provided a platform for us as an Arab community to showcase that things have happened to us, but we take it with stride; it won’t tear us down, it won’t make us a victim, it won’t make us fear others. Instead, it brings us closer to our community,” said Ahmad Taouil, vice president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
Ayache said that the event has actually had a positive impact in her life. She believes that it really pulled the community together and made it even stronger.
“We had over a 100 people in my driveway. It was amazing what the community did for us.” Ayache said. The members of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo also reached out to the family to offer their sympathy.“Part of me hopes that the person who did this to my garage can see what a positive message I portrayed out of it. I’m as much American as anyone else is. I love where I live and I love America,” Ayache said.
Taouil said that he sees this as a rare occurrence and does not believe that it is reflective of the community opinion. To him, it is just one person trying to gain negative attention, who instead brought the incident positive attention.
“As long as we react to hatred by coming together, I think we are able to defeat these hatemongers, these trolls who try to scare people,” Taouil said.
He continued that the Islamic Center is open to everyone and not necessarily only for people of the Muslim faith.
“Of course anybody can come in, anybody can interact with us. That is the best hub we have as a community. We live amongst the people, we are a part of the people, we have grown here, we were born here,” Taouil said.
To eliminate hatred, Taouil suggested that we need to invite people of different faiths into our lives, be open to them and come together like we did. However, he said that an incident like this shouldn’t be the only thing that brings us together and that we should always come together.
The Islamic Center itself hosts different events that are open to everyone. They have events like Islam 101 and seminars held at the center on a monthly basis throughout the year. The Friday prayers and Sunday lectures are also open to the whole community.
“There is no inclusion or exclusion. Everybody is welcome, and I think that alone is the best type of reach out to the community,” Taouil said.
He urges people who are doubtful to come talk to them at the center and to gain knowledge. He said that he believes that people who spew racist comments don’t know Muslims and that they have never been around one nor interacted with one.
“We give you the opportunity to come ask us questions. Let us know what your concerns and fears are. Give us an opportunity to help you understand how we’re just as American as everyone else,” Taouil said.
The director of Middle Eastern studies at University of Toledo, Gaby Semaan, said that he shares a similar opinion. He said he believes that the most effective way to respond to hate is with love.
Semaan, who has lived in Toledo since 2000, views it as a hospitable community toward Arabs. He said that he believes that an incident such as this happened because people are afraid of what they do not know.
“Even students in the university are not educated enough about Arabs who have been stereotyped in the media. It’s sad that it’s happening, and it just shows us that we need to be more active as educators, administrators and as humans,” Semaan said.
He said that he chooses to focus on the positivity that has surrounded this incident and hopes that it will jumpstart a discussion. He encourages people to deal with stereotypes by playing on them, meeting them with humor and sometimes by simply ignoring them.
He advises that “sometimes we have to embrace others, even those who hurt us, in order to be able to help them.”