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American Muslims search for identity 10 years after Sept. 11
Hungry to be just one of the guys after immigrating to Texas, Palestinian Fawaz Ismail asked everybody to call him "Tony." The nickname put people at ease at his Dallas high school, where Tony switched from soccer to football and picked up a bit of a Texas twang.
He remained Tony when he moved to Northern Virginia to expand his family's flag-selling business. The name made him feel as American as his Falls Church store, Alamo Flag, a patriot's paradise brimming with Stars and Stripes banners, pins and stickers.
Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the day Tony became a foreigner again. That afternoon, people started pouring into Alamo Flag, many wearing sunglasses to hide their crying eyes. Ismail sold thousands of American flags in those days of fear and unity, and he gave away thousands more.
But soon after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon burned, Ismail felt his adopted homeland pushing him away. He decided to push back. He sent Tony into permanent exile, taking back his given name. Now, a decade later, his name is a daily message to his fellow Americans: They must deal with him for who he is — a Muslim who loves his country and proudly sells its banner.
"A lot of people use a nickname to make it easier for Americans to pronounce," he says, "but now, I don't care. They're going to have to pronounce my name. It's not that hard — Fah-wahz."
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