A swastika and profane message cursing Arabs were spray-painted on a Lebanese family’s garage in what Ohio police are investigating as an act of ethnic intimidation.
Souheir Eltatawy, of Sylvania Township, told The Blade newspaper in Toledo she hadn’t previously experienced such intimidation since arriving from Lebanon in 1988. Her daughter found the graffiti Tuesday night. Eltatway says she doesn’t know the motive, but whoever is responsible made a point.
“I feel the hate of those people,” she said.
Her son, Mustafa Eltatawy who does not live in the home, tells the newspaper the graffiti at the home of his mother and sister initially made him angry and fearful for his family, which is Muslim.
“But it wasn’t long before I started to feel sorry for the person who did it because the kind of energy that it would take to harbor that kind of hate, it would be taxing on that person,” he said. “I feel that if they would have knocked, I would have invited them in for a coffee or tea to talk about why he feels we are responsible for his anger.”
Leaders of the United Muslim Association of Toledo and the Cleveland chapter of the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations condemned the vandalism and urged community leaders to do the same.
The Muslim association president called for law enforcement to consider it as a hate crime, WTOL-TV reported.
Her daughter, May Eltatawy, discovered the graffiti when she returned home at roughly 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s just hard because my mom and I are the only ones living in this home since my father died,” Ms. Eltatawy said. “I just really fear for my mom’s life.”
Mr. Eltatawy said his father, the late Rada Eltatawy, was a well-known wrestling coach in the region who also was a former Egyptian Olympic wrestler. His whole family is Muslim, he said.
The younger Mr. Eltatawy’s aunt, Joumana Bazzy of Oregon, also was with the family this morning.
“We all come from somewhere else,” she said. “And that’s what being an American is. America is inclusive, not exclusive, and that’s what makes America a great country. What happened here was done out of ignorance and fear and I hope we can all rise above this type of behavior.”
Julia Shearson, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Cleveland chapter, said such direct intimidation sends a message of intolerance and fear.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many have scapegoated this vulnerable group. It is a counter-productive response, she said.
“That’s why people in positions of power have to set an example of moral leadership that distinguishes between the problem of terrorism and the broader Muslim and Arab community that has nothing to do with it,” she said.
Ms. Shearson called on township leaders to condemn the hateful graffiti and local groups to consider programs that may help resolve these gaps.
Jennifer Nagel, a neighbor, said she could not believe “one of our neighbors would do this.” She said she thought the family was targeted because of their ethnicity.
“It’s hard to come up with words to express my sentiments,” Ms. Nagel said of the vandalism. “I was angry when police came here and told me about it last night. And I was angry again when I saw it this morning.”
Jill Blair, another neighbor, said what was done to the family was “terrible.”
Her husband, Dr. Robert Blair, echoed her response, adding the victims have no enemies in the neighborhood as far as he knows.
“I feel terrible,” Dr. Blair said. “… This country is so divided right now. I think all the animosity created by the [presidential] election divided the country more than I’ve ever seen it.” A possible reference to president elect Donald Trump who has been bringing anti-Muslim prejudice into the mainstream.
Mr. Eltatawy said his mother does not have a security camera outside the house but, he said, police told the family they were going to check if any of her neighbors do.
Township police said they have no suspects. A police spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 419-882-1250.