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Belle Glade Muslims Share Neighbor's Anger & Fear

Belle Glade Muslims share neighbors' anger, fear

By Stella M. Chßvez
Staff Writer

September 16, 2001

BELLE GLADE + Tuesday's attack on the United States has members of Belle Glade's tight-knit Muslim community struggling to comprehend what happened. They've wept. They've become angry. They've felt scared.

Like other Americans, they too have questioned "why" and urged others not to look at them as the enemy.

"It's sad. It's really, really sad," said Mohamed Shatara, 28, as he stood outside his family's store in Belle Glade. "One bad person makes everyone else look bad, but what people have to understand is that you've got a bad person in every race."

Shatara is a part of a substantial Muslim community in Belle Glade, one of the only distinctly Arab neighborhoods in Palm Beach County. Some of the inhabitants have been here for more than 30 years. Many are Palestinians, but some are from Pakistan, Iran and other countries, living and working side by side with immigrants from other countries.

Many own stores in this town of 15,000. Because of Belle Glade's sizable Hispanic and Haitian population, many business owners have learned to speak Spanish or Creole and greet their customers accordingly.

The 2001 census hasn't yet identified Belle Glade's Arabic population. According to the census, 50.7 percent of the city's residents are black, 30.3 percent are white, and 27.6 percent are Hispanic. About 10 percent are "other."

Belen Beltran, a native of Mexico who works at the Family Good Center on West Avenue A, said she hasn't had any problems with her Muslim neighbors. Business owners on her street, regardless of nationality, look out for one another, watching each other's stores while the other runs an errand.

"I think we're all here for the same reason: to get ahead and lead a better life," said Beltran. "We don't have any bad things to say about them."

Since Tuesday's attack, many Muslim residents have been glued to the television .

Joe Shatara, the owner of Joe's Fashion, said the news reports are disturbing.

"A lot of Muslims have been labeled as evil, but we don't support what happened," he said.

A few Muslims said they feared retaliation. They've gotten strange looks from people and questions like, "Why did your people do this?"

For Yousef Muslet, the recent events are a wake-up call for everybody to come together, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.

"It's a test," said Muslet, the owner of Missouri Department Store. "That's what life is. It's a test."

Stella M. Chßvez can be reached at or 561-243-6602.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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