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October 18,2001

Community unites for Arab-owned market

A long-time human-rights activist spearheads a fundraising campaign to
fix the damage done at Bahra's Market following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Journal Staff Writer

PAWTUCKET -- When Rick Roth learned that vandals had broken the windows of a local convenience store owned by an American of Lebanese descent, his response was swift and relentless.

He launched a campaign to raise what it cost to repair the damage, collecting $1,086 in just 10 days.

Bahra's Market, on Columbus Avenue, was one of several Arab-owned businesses in Pawtucket that were the targets of an apparent hate-crime after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Khalil Elmasri, the owner of the busy convenience store, said yesterday he was indebted for the fundraising campaign Roth mounted, and grateful by the outpouring of support.

There has been no more trouble since somebody lobbed a dozen rocks through two plate-glass windows of the market in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, while the store was closed, Elmasri said.

Instead, there have been apologies and expressions of regret.

"Dear Mr. Elmasri, Please know that I consider what was done to your business reprehensible," wrote a woman who contributed $10.

"I am very sorry that you were the victim of this act of senseless violence," another contributor said.

The fundraising campaign was conducted in phases. Phase 1 ended on Sept. 18, when Roth had collected $500 to cover the insurance deductible. But then he learned that Elmasri's insurer wasn't going to cover the damage. "I'll try to raise the whole thing," Roth said.

Phase 2 ended on Friday, when Roth presented Elmasri with a check for the rest of the money. "He said it made him feel much better to know that everybody supported him," Roth said.

Contributions came from as far away as Texas, Missouri and Colorado. Roth, who owns the Mirror Image T-shirt company on Exchange Street, sent an e-mail to business people he knows all over the United States.

Contributions also came from Pawtucket businesses, public officials, social service agency directors and Elmasri's customers.

Eighty dollars was raised by a group of eight-graders at Samuel Slater Junior High School. "By pitching in to help Mr. Elmasri, we feel that we are taking a stand against intolerance," the students wrote.

For the most part, Roth, a longtime activist for the human rights group Amnesty International, tried to keep the donations small and the fundraising appeal, local.

That was a matter of strategy.

By specifying a $10 maximum, he was able to get about 100 people involved in the fundraising effort, thus generating publicity. By soliciting contributions in Pawtucket, he was able to raise public awareness in the community where vandalism had occurred.

The goal, Roth said, wasn't just to collect money. It was also to stamp out hate and intolerance. "These things exist and perpetuate themselves in darkness," he said." They can't stand the light of day."

Police Chief George L. Kelley III said that the police have received no reports of any acts of violence directed against Arab business owners since the outbreak in the week following the Sept. 11.

Omar Ahmed, an immigrant from Pakistan and who operates the Sunoco gasoline station off the Route 95 exit ramp at School Street, confirmed that things have been calm.

"So far, so good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Ahmed said.

2001 The Providence Journal Company

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