He May Be a Hate Target for Owning 'French Cleaners'

From Associated Press

Pierre Frik feared that if the country went to war in Iraq, he might be targeted by zealots because of his Middle Eastern background.

He never imagined he'd be vulnerable because French Cleaners is the name of his small chain.

The Lebanese native said he picked the name on a whim, making the Eiffel Tower the logo. But as relations between the United States and France soured over a war with Iraq, Frik said, he was hit by the backlash.

Customers have spit on checks and passersby make obscene gestures, he said. On Wednesday, his Modesto shop was damaged in a fire. He said he later learned that his two other shops had been vandalized.

"We're very concerned about French-bashing going on across the country," French Consulate spokesman Yo-Jung Chen said Thursday.

"The fire and the vandalism are the only negative incidents we've heard of so far in California, but we've received many phone calls and e-mails since the crisis started," Chen said. "Many of them are simply insults. People seem to be really upset about the position taken by France in the U.N."

France had threatened to block a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

Frik, who became a U.S. citizen after emigrating from Lebanon in 1977, said he's worried about his family; his children and wife help run the shops.

"I had no problem before as a Middle Easterner," Frik said. But when France took its antiwar stance, "it all started."

Police in Turlock are investigating the vandalism at Frik's shop there as a hate crime: Obscenities were scratched on a window, shattering it.

At his Ceres store, pellet holes were found in a window. "We really didn't think anything of it at the time," said Sgt. Brent Smith. "Officers just went out and took a report."

Authorities estimated the fire damage to Frik's Modesto store at $500,000 but said it's too early to classify it as suspicious.

"It does seem unusual," said Modesto Det. Doug Ridenour. "Now we just have to see if it's a crime."

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