Middle Easterners Should Take Care on Halloween

Holiday could be used as an excuse for violence

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 26, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Arab-Americans and others who look Middle Eastern should take extra precautions this Halloween, experts say.

The Oct. 31 holiday tends to prompt vandalism, and this year, experts fear the vandalism -- even violence -- could target Middle Eastern immigrants and other foreign-born Americans.

"If I were Islamic, I would be very afraid right now," says Bryan Byers, professor of criminal justice at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. "We've already seen instances of anti-Islamic violence and harassment. The added risk is that Halloween is a holiday thatbrings out deviance in some people. You have to be extra vigilant."

Police departments around the country typically step up patrols in the days preceding Halloween. The vandalism typically begins the night before Halloween -- called "Mischief Night" or "Devil's Night."

In Detroit, vandals celebrate by setting fire to abandoned houses and buildings, a problem that the city and community have worked to stamp out by renaming it "Angel's Night" and organizing citizen foot patrols.

"That weekend is a really busy weekend for us for one reason and one reason only -- arson," says Detroit Police Officer Glen Woods. He says he doesn't see a need for increased protection of Muslims. "Everybody will be working that night to cut back on thefires."

But Byers says police should be on the lookout for problems at mosques and businesses owned by Middle Easterners. Byers relates the threat to Middle Easterners to the harassment of the Amish, a religious sect that eschews modern technology. Amish settlements are found in southeastern Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio and northern Indiana.

Byers says his research shows people who verbally or physically harassed the Amish justified their actions by saying the Amish "deserved it. People harassing Middle Easterners may use the same justification."

Since Sept. 11, the FBI has opened investigations into about 150 reported hate crimes against people who appear Middle Eastern. Halloween could pose an added threat because of its "dark, ghoulish, devious social context," Byers says.

Halloween has grown increasingly popular among adults in recent years because it's a chance to break society's rules, says Douglas Raybeck, professor of anthropology at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Men can dress like women, women can wear their French maid's costume in public, and everyone can adopt an alter ego or change their identity entirely, he says.

"Traditionally, it's a period that you can relax some conventions, put on a mask and pretend to be someone else. As a result, you are freed from some social constraints and behave in ways you might not otherwise behave," Raybeck says.

However, Raybeck predicts a quieter Halloween this year. In the fearful climate, the large block parties usually held in many cities and the huge Halloween parties at stadiums and dance clubs willseem less appealing. Being in the middle of anonymous crowds with hundreds of people who are concealing their identity can seem frightening and risky rather than fun and exciting, he says.

"Masks introduce an unnecessary and unwanted variable at this point," Raybeck says. "Parents are going to be more concerned about how their children represent themselves as they go door to door because of the general nervousness. Adults will go to parties if theyare small, controlled and the people are familiar to them."

What To Do

Read about the history of Halloween at the HalloweenAssociation Web site. Andcheck these safety tips.

You can also take this psychological test to detect hidden bias against other races at Tolerance.org.

Or, read about Halloween from an orthodox Muslim perspective at IslamOnline.

SOURCES: Interviews with Bryan Byers, Ph.D., professor of criminal justice, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.; Officer Glen Woods, Detroit Police Department, Mich.; Douglas Raybeck, professor of anthropology, Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y.

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