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Pharaon Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) is a consulting company that provides a range of psychological, coaching, and counseling services to individuals, couples, and groups. Founded in 1997 by counseling psychologist Dr. Nora Alarifi Pharaon, PCG is a US-based company with global outreach and focuses on these core offerings:

  • * Consulting
  • * Psychotherapy
  • * Testing and Evaluation
  • * Coaching
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Reflections on My Responses to 9/11

Nora Alarifi Pharaon, Ed.D., CGP
Co-founder/Co-director
TAMKEEN
Pharaon3@aol.com

Living in an Age of Terror
Creating Spiritual and Psychological Healing:
NYU, Kimmel Center
27 October 2004

Reflections on My Responses to 9/11

When I was asked to present during this conference on the experience of the Arab American and Muslim community before, during and post 9/11, I felt it was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the seeming unending series of events that changed our existence as an immigrant community living in the US. It has been over three years since the tragic events of 9/11 took place, events that not only changed the world on a global scale but also changed my life and the lives of members of my community in many ways. Some of these changes have been challenging to say the least while others have been gratifying.

I came to this country as an immigrant Muslim woman of Arab descent. I left my home country, which was brutalized by civil strife that spanned over 12 years of my adult life. The Lebanese civil war erupted as a result of global and regional political conflicts disguised in the form of religious intolerance. Like many of my fellow new immigrants trying to carve a quiet, peaceful, and productive life in the US, I focused my attention on my education and personal development within the context of a warm and loving family environment. My community was my family and my support system was my religious beliefs. Members of the larger Arab American and Muslim community were trying to make a life similar to mine in the US, a life very different from the one we left back home. We have been disillusioned by traditional politics and were determined to keep our faith a very private affair and express it in the form of a personal relationship with God that no one could ever hijack again.

My life as a new immigrant was challenging yet contained within the realms of my safe home life. My sense of the larger Arab and Muslim community was that we lived in a state of isolation and marginalization which translated into existing within strong enclaves whose main purpose for being was to preserve a heritage and a culture for fear of it being devoured by the American mainstream culture. This attitude generated negative stereotypical responses by our American counterparts promulgated by ignorance due to lack of knowledge of the “Other”.

Then, the unimaginable happened. As we watched the planes smash through the towers, we cried in disbelief. All our hopes and dreams about peace and tranquility seemed to shatter in one flash. There was no escape from the tragic reel shown repeatedly on all television networks. Memories of what we believed were a distant past overwhelmed us. The Nation’s mourning was poignant. It was felt by all who inhabited this globe. As soon as the shock waned, I started making phone calls to find out how I could help. I felt a dire and primitive need to reach out to members of my community. It was almost an instinctual desire to reconnect with a part of me to continue to survive.

One month later, I started providing psychological services at the Arab American Family Support Center in Brooklyn. They welcomed me with desperation given the scarcity of our breed, Arabic speaking mental health professionals. There was no time to reflect on what was going on within the community. Many Arab Americans who have had other stressful events preceding the traumatic experience of 9/11 had multiple experiences of retraumatization. The sense of guilt and shame associated with the perpetrators, the discriminatory practices that they have faced from the main population whether expressed through the media or everyday life, and the overwhelming sense of insecurity due to the threat of deportation or detention were the source of anxiety and frantic despair for many Arab Americans. My community was living double terror: the terror of the 9/11 attacks, and then the terror within. Government policies put into place in response to 9/11 affected the civil rights of almost 60,000 American Muslims. These policies included among many others the detention of Muslims after 9/11, passenger profiling, the closure of Muslim charities, the use of secret evidence, raids on Muslim homes and institutions, and “voluntary” interrogations of legal visa holders.

Throughout my three-year stay at the Center tending to the mental health needs of my community, I witnessed the rebirth of the Arab and Muslim community. There was a sense of a common destiny, which in turn revived in the long-disenfranchised community a sense of pride in its history and cultural heritage. Many people organized themselves and were the grassroots for many organizational initiatives in the social, legal, and political domains. The sense of isolation, however, did not cease to exist. Members of the community negotiated the backlash of 9/11 with a sense of resignation yet amazing sense of resilience. The beginnings of networking with other immigrant communities started to take shape. Project Liberty was a latecomer to the rescue. Through the Center Project Liberty launched a major outreach effort to provide crisis counseling to individuals and groups in their own natural setting. This was critical due to the introduction of Homeland Security measures, which resulted in the community’s growing sense of apprehension about what were viewed as unconstitutional policies targeting ordinary Muslims. In addition, religious practices that direct personal behavior-including the five-time daily prayers, month-long fasting at Ramadan, beards for men and the wearing of the hijab (headcover) for women made Muslims more visible than most religious minorities and thus more vulnerable to bigotry. Images of long lines of Arab and Muslim men stationed for many hours outside 26 Federal Plaza and stories told within the safe confines of therapy sessions of racism, discrimination, and harassment have left deep imprints in the archives of my collective memory. So did tears shed by victims of domestic violence whose numbers increased dramatically post 9/11. Added to these are the defiant cries of adolescent boys and girls who have been mercilessly harassed by their closest friends or classroom teachers because of their looks, skin color or Muslim names.

All of these powerful images have spurred our effort to establish a mental health center we named TAMKEEN which in Arabic means empowerment. This was in response to the largely neglected needs of the community as evidenced by the dearth of culturally competent services. TAMKEEN is one year old and growing up very fast. So many

good people and generous organizations have come through providing us with technical assistance and moral support such as the Community Resource Exchange, Urban Justice Center, Coalition of Mental Health Service Agencies, New York Immigration Coalition, Safe Horizon, American Group Psychotherapy Association, Steinway Family Health Center, Mental Health Association, Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler to name a few. They were all interested in helping us establish critically needed mental health services for immigrant communities who have been under siege following the backlash of 911.

Today, we continue to pursue our calling to advocate on behalf of members of the Arab immigrant and Muslim community to provide them with desperately needed mental health services. Through TAMKEEN, we aim to empower them to claim their voices, expand their choices and become active partners in pursuing the American dream.

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PGC can help with:

  • Anxiety Disorders
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
    • Panic Disorder
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Social Phobia
    • Agoraphobia
    • Binge-eating Disorder
    • Insomnia
  • Adult ADHD
  • Time Management
  • Marital Discord
  • Bonding Evaluation
  • Adoption Evaluation