Word on the Arab ‘street’? Shhh…

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The execution of Saddam Hussein was big news from the Euphrates to YouTube. But along Bay Ridge’s heavily Arab-American Fifth Avenue, the death of the tyrant was greeted with silence.

“I won’t watch it and I have no other opinion,” said a man working at Matrix Internet Cafe.

A man working behind the counter at Halal Food Market also insisted he had nothing to say about the death of a man who held Iraq in an iron grip for decades.

“I don’t have any opinions and no one in my store has any thoughts on any questions!” he said.

At the Liel Ya Eian Arabic Coffee Shop, located two blocks from the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, the five men sitting in the back greeted the questions about Saddam’s execution with silence — followed by laughter.

“Go ask someone else. We don’t have opinions when newspapers are concerned,” the owner said.

Of course, everyone had an opinion. But no one, except Haythem Ibrahim, was eager to share it.

“Here is how everybody reacted,” said Ibrahim, as he puffed on a long hookah flavored with apple, strawberry and mint at the Meena House Café, which is across the street from the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.

“People used to hate Saddam for what he did. Now they feel sorry for him. They believe he died like a hero. He wasn’t shaking. He wasn’t scared.”

He also claimed that the footage of Saddam’s execution — which was playing in what seemed like an infinite loop on the cafe’s big-screen TV — will only increase the violence in Iraq.

“When you have a new democracy and you catch a criminal and take him to court and it ends in this fashion, this new democracy becomes a lie,” Ibrahim said.

“If he would have been executed by the American troops it wouldn’t have been like this.”

Ibrahim added that many Muslims took offense that the execution took place on the Sunni holy day of Id al-Adha, which began on Saturday. It is customary in Iraq not to carry out executions on a religious holiday.

“The [Shia] politicians executed Saddam on this day with the intention of provocation,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim’s candor didn’t exactly loosen other tongues at the Meena Cafe. One young Arab-American man who overheard the conversation admitted that, of course, everyone has an opinion. But he said that no one would talk publicly in a neighborhood whose merchants and coffee shops have been spied on by the NYPD since 9-11.

Nonetheless, the man was willing to talk to a reporter — but only to a point.

“What you were told is true, the community did hate Saddam and now we feel pity over how they executed him,” he said.

“But do you expect me to give you my name in this climate?”

Updated 4:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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