Though the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Act in 1995 was in response to the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Caucasian Americans, Arabs and Muslims have been a nearly exclusive prey to the terror-phobia that has swept the US thereafter. But the anti-Muslim policy that has been initiated since then, is not only touching Arabs and Muslims, but also those associated with them, including individuals like Wendy Ghannam.
Ghannam, who was born and raised in New York State and who currently resides in Washington D.C., is an American woman whose dedication and hard work rewarded her with a respected job in a place that she always pledged loyalty.
In 1988, after years in US government civil service jobs, she began her career with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Her reputation as a hard worker helped her in getting promotions within the personnel department at USAID. But even such a shiny resume was barely enough to protect Ghannam from a fate that she could have never anticipated.
In the mid 1990's, Ghannam was subjected to a "ruthless and vagarious investigation," she said in an interview with iviews.com. Although the investigation was routine for those who have worked for the agency for over five years, Ghannam said she was treated differently because she is married to a Palestinian Muslim.
First, Ghannam said she was called into the office of Jeffrey Rush, who was USAID's Inspector General at the time. The short sessions with routine questions grew into days of interrogations and harassment.
"We have a problem with you Wendy. Your husband is a Palestinian Arab," stated one of Rush's office investigators, whose name she preferred keeping anonymous due to the nature of the case. Dismayed by his remarks, Ghannam replied, "I have been married to him for 25 years, and there has never been a problem."
However the investigator's reply came quick and sure, "you are the only one working in this agency who is married to a Palestinian," adding, "I am gonna be honest with Wendy, they just don't want you here."
Ghannam said they continued their interrogations with more vicious questions such as why she chose to marry a Muslim and whether her husband regularly attended mosque and if his Zakaat (charity) money went to the Islamic movement Hamas.
Yet the end of what seemed like a never-ending interrogation was not the end of the nightmare, says Ghannam. "I was constantly watched. My computer was looked at." Even her supervisor became actively involved in the two and a half years of harassment, following the investigation. He asked her how she could be married to an Arab.
The harassment finally ended in 1996 when Ghannam was fired from her job and was told she was being let go because she was a "surplus".
Subsequently, Ghannam filed three lawsuits in court alleging discrimination and mistreatment, verbal abuse and failure on the part of the government to investigate her case.
Rush is now an inspector general at the Treasury Department. Repeated attempts by iviews.com to reach Rush for comment at his home were not successful. An attorney representing USAID, Jan Peter of the Office of General Counsel, said he would not comment on the case.
Meanwhile, Ghannam's legal battle continues. But her case is by no means an isolated incident. Arab and Muslim Americans continue to be targeted and perceived with suspicious eyes, as religious discrimination at the workplace remains one of the Muslim community's greatest concerns.
"If you are an Arab or Muslim American, all documents and records about your life are closely reviewed by the government," said Ghannam.