The young woman in our experiment was an actor, but many of the hateful words she heard were based on the experiences of Chicago-born Nohayia Javed, who was watching our experiment from the control van. Javed said she has continually suffered verbal abuse and said she has even been physically attacked by fellow Americans — just because she is Muslim.
"They always start off with, 'you're a terrorist, Osama-lover, towel-head, camel jockey' on and on," Javed said. "If I tell them I'm American, they're like, 'No you're not. Just because you were born here doesn't make you American.' And I'm like, 'What makes you American?'"
Javed is not alone. The number of anti-Islamic hate crime incidents in the United States has more than quadrupled from 28 incidents in 2000 to 156 incidents in 2006, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most recent figures.
Back in the bakery, the next customers had a very different answer to the question of American identity. First we met a man who angrily refused to buy anything when the sales clerk refused to serve Sabina. When our actor chastised him for being a "bad American," he begged to differ.
"I believe I am a good American," he said. "My son just came back from serving in the army for over a year in Iraq and that has nothing to do with her [Sabina's] rights. I am deeply offended by this."
When we told him about the experiment, he explained why he stood up for Sabina.
"I believe that people who use dress, skin color, language, heritage, financial means, education level, any of those things to say one group is better than another are using empty excuses for bigotry and hatred, and there's been enough hatred," he said.
We also met two young women who refused to let our sales clerk's hateful words go unchecked.
"Sir, we are not buying our kolaches because you are really offensive and disgusting," one said.
"Just because she's dressed like that doesn't mean anything," said the other, a Muslim-American woman herself.
Rather than simply taking their business elsewhere, the young women demanded to speak to the manager, and they also challenged our sales clerk's definition of "American."
"She's American. She's American. I'm American. You're the one that's anti-American right now," one said to the sales clerk.
When he refused to budge and our actress turned to leave, the two women walked out with her in a show of support.
Even though people seemed to have strong opinions on either side, more than half of the bystanders did or said absolutely nothing. This is a familiar reaction for many Muslims such as Javed.
"I was shocked because when these things happen to me in real life … I never see what happens after I walk out of that store," she said. "I would try to justify … that they probably didn't hear it … when I watched it, I realized, no, they hear it and they see it and they're okay with it."
For Javed, tears of fear were mixed with tears of thanks for those she saw come forward to support Sabina.
"In my lifetime, I've never ever had anybody stand up for me," Javed said. "It's very touching to see that because that's the right thing to do, I believe … as an American."
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