It is a simple precaution and Akbar Moazezi has taken it more and more lately. As night falls outside his Canoga Park restaurant, he discreetly dims the neon sign advertising his business in sleek Persian script.
Some nights he turns the sign off altogether. With Iraqis and Americans battling each other in the Persian Gulf, there is no reason to draw unwanted attention to his business. No reason to give some kook an excuse to throw a brick--or worse--through his window.
Moazezi, 37, is from Iran, not Iraq. But like many San Fernando Valley-area business owners of Middle Eastern descent, he is made nervous by the Gulf War. He is worried that some Americans will make him a target for their anger and frustration at Iraq.
“We don’t know if they can tell the difference between us and Arabs,” said his 20-year-old daughter, Sharareh, pointing out that Persians are not ethnic Arabs and have a distinct culture and language of their own. “It’s totally two different things.”
The anxieties of Middle Eastern merchants were heightened last week after fire gutted a Sherman Oaks coffee shop owned by a Lebanese-American. The day before, someone spray-painted “Go Home,” followed by an obscenity and the word Arabs on a sidewalk outside the shop.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley urged the City Council on Friday to approve a $25,000 reward to solve what he called the “apparent hate crime.” Fire officials said they are still investigating if the blaze was deliberately set.
However, most Middle Eastern businessmen in the area have not experienced any attacks or open hostility, nor have they taken any unusual security measures. Some say their business has fallen somewhat, but they attribute that mostly to recession jitters.
“Many people is coming here. All is normal. . . . Nobody has said anything bad,” said Nawaf Swidan, the Syrian-born manager of a small Canoga Park market that sells Armenian coffee, fava beans, pistachio nuts and other Middle Eastern foods.
Los Angeles Police Lt. Warren Knowles said that before war tensions arose, the Van Nuys station received about five reports of threatening phone calls a week, most having nothing to do with ethnicity.
Recently, though, the station has gotten about five more threat reports weekly. The additional ones have been directed both at Arabs and Jews, he said.
Some Middle Eastern business owners worry that they may be mistaken for Iraqis simply because they have black hair and dark skin and their businesses have Persian or Arabic signs.
Many Americans “can’t tell the difference between Persian or Arab writing, or for that matter Israeli,” said Patti Tehrani, who is married to the Iranian-born president of a Tarzana real estate finance company. “And so people take potshots at the window.”
Indeed, the head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Los Angeles would not provide a reporter with any names of Arab business owners, saying he did not want to risk making them targets.
“I could not in good conscience do that,” Don Bustany said.
Some Middle Easterners said that although their businesses have not been harmed, the Gulf War has touched their lives in disturbing ways.
Sharareh Moazezi said a Persian man she knows had his nose broken outside a Van Nuys liquor store last week by thugs who mistook him for an Iraqi. Also, she said her 14-year-old brother has been heckled recently by fellow students at his junior high school.
“My brother gets asked, ‘What are you, an Iraqi?’ He says, ‘No, I’m a Persian.’ He used to stay after school and play around, but now he just comes home after school,” she said.
Tehrani, who was born in Los Angeles and is of Danish extraction, said her family voiced no complaints when she married an Iranian five years ago. But that changed during a recent visit by several relatives from Kansas.
“All of a sudden they ask me, ‘How can you live with a Moslem?’ ” she said.
Adel Barakat, whose family opened a market 22 years ago in Moorpark after emigrating from Jerusalem, said terrorists or bigots who might attack Arab-owned businesses “are stupid and are going to make a big problem.”
Barakat said Arab immigrants “love the United States more than anybody else. We choose to stay in this country. In the United States, we are all foreigners. We are not different from anybody.”
Barakat said his son was a member of the U. S. Olympic field hockey team. And Barakat himself has been a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and such thoroughly American organizations as the Lions, Jaycees and Rotary Club.
“We feel like we are Americans,” he said. “We are not going to go back home because we feel we are at home.”
His family’s market has not been harmed. Nonetheless, they are taking no chances. They have put more workers on duty lately. And they are closing two hours earlier each night, at the cautious time of 9 p.m.