BANGOR – For 10 years, the Bahaar Pakistani Restaurant has managed to survive in the city’s downtown, weathering an economic downturn and competition.
These days, owners Noor Khan and his family continue to face a new threat, one that is hard for them to understand, let alone fight. As Muslims from Pakistan, they find themselves the focus of misplaced anger and epithets, the subjects of intolerance in a country that prides itself as being the bastion of acceptance.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the restaurant has been open only about 14 days. At first, the Khans closed it out of deference to the tragedy. Then it became an issue of safety.
In the wake of the attack, Khan said he has received numerous phone calls, drive-by comments and confrontations from people who are judging him based on his skin color, nationality and religion rather than the facts. The most prominent incident has drawn the attention of the Maine attorney general, who filed a civil rights complaint against a Bangor man accused of threatening Khan on Sept. 15, four days after the attacks.
The complaint filed in Penobscot County Superior Court earlier this month seeks to prevent Jeffrey Saulnier, 44, from making further threats against Khan.
Khan’s restaurant, located near the intersection of State and Central streets, used to be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Now he goes on a day-by-day basis, opening the restaurant only when he feels secure.
He closed the restaurant even before it opened Wednesday after a man confronted Khan outside, telling him that he and his family should go home. The comments also included a threat that something would happen if Noor was seen on the road.
Noor, speaking Thursday, said he tried to explain to the man that Pakistan is on the forefront in its support of the war on terrorism, but wasn’t given the chance. The man left. Noor said he closed the restaurant, took his family home and returned to the restaurant to apologize to any customers who showed up and to explain why he was closed.
Khan said he has been reluctant to report all the incidents, saying he wants to fit in and be a good neighbor and not cause trouble. But they have made him alter his life and work habits. Being closed so often has meant the restaurant has fallen behind on its bills and makes Khan wonder if he can hold out until sentiments change and life returns to some kind of normalcy.
He’s instituted other changes, including keeping his 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter on a short tether. Once they could walk around downtown. Now he says they must stay close to their parents.
“I think the people should know that this is the time where people should realize what freedom is all about,” Khan said. “This country is made of immigrants, and it’s time they show the rest of the world how we can live together, regardless of what country they are from.”