SADNESS, SHOCK AT PORTRAYAL OF ARABS

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The guys at Mike's Rainbow Restaurant, a cabbie hangout in Chicago, are worried about fallout from the bombing, especially by early reports that suspects were of Middle Eastern descent.

"It's terrible if the bombing was committed by someone from the Middle East, but such fringe factions do not represent our culture or our values and we are very concerned about the fear and stereotyping we will suffer," said a Chicago cab driver who came to the U.S. 10 years ago from Jordan. "Not only does the news portray us as terrorists, but nearly every movie made in Hollywood uses Arabs as stereotypical terrorists. It's absolutely the opposite of our culture and our values."

A sad week of wild and xenophobic accusations ended with real charges against one suspect. Yet J. Melvin Muse, chairman of Muse Cordero Chen, a Los Angeles agency targeting diverse communities, saw some potential for good.

The initial shock to the tragedy brought out a "closeness of humanity" as good people came together, Mr. Muse said. "The issue right now is the healing."

Middle Eastern people in the U.S. last week said they are very concerned about growing negative perceptions of their culture.

"The U.S. media has played a very irresponsible role in covering the Oklahoma bombing in relation to Middle Easterners," said Maha Jirad, 32, national director of the Chicago-based Union of Palestinian Women's Association. "Immediately after the bombing, it was reported that people who `looked Middle Eastern' were seen leaving the scene, which is a very racist and vague observation. It's impossible even to stereotype the appearances of people of Middle Eastern heritage in such a way."

New York Contributing Editor Robert L. Friedman, who has written two recent articles about terrorism, was critical of media speculation that Middle Easterners were involved, especially when composites of two suspects released were of two white men.

"It may very well turn out that it has some connections to the Middle East, but an awful lot of television people were backtracking Thursday after the release of the composite sketches," he said.

Stan Rapp, chairman of the MaxiMarketing Center, agreed.

"The media rush to judgment of who might be the perpetrator was inappropriate. The stereotyping of any minority in the country is wrong. I hope we'll learn something from that experience," he said.M

Contributing to this story: Alice Z. Cuneo, Keith J. Kelly and Laura Loro.

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