11:18 AM CDT on Monday, October 26, 2009
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Jim Douglas reports
ARLINGTON — The Cooper Street Farmers Market sits in a highly diversified community in central Arlington — a tossed salad of cultures, colors and accents.
But when Latifa Aimaq went into the market, she found trouble from the proprietor.
“He was very intimidating. He began to yell: ‘Get out! Get out! Get out! We don’t allow people with a face veil in here!'”
Aimaq covers all but her eyes and hands in when in public, but signs posted in the market say faces must be visible.
“I tried to explain to her it’s for our safety and the safety of our customers,” said store manager Chris Perez.
Perez said women in full veil rarely come in, and usually when they do, they discreetly show their faces to his mother. But Perez said there were no women working the day Latifa Aimaq came in.
“We don’t discriminate, period — based on race, religion, color, or any other thing,” Perez maintined.
Each accuses the other of over-reacting. “I said, ‘We’re Muslim; this is the way we dress,'” Aimaq recalls having told Perez. “He did not care.”
Aimaq said Perez made it clear why he wanted her out. “He said, ‘I don’t want the Muslims to shop here.'”
Perez disputed that account. “Muslims are probably 40 to 50 percent of my business,” he said. “I’m not turning them away.”
Terence Ali, a frequent customer at Cooper Street Farmers Market, overheard the explanation from Perez and joined in.
“If you’re shopping in a store, obviously they’re going to want to see your face, or want to be able to see your face to protect other customers,” Ali said. “I don’t think it’s wrong for a business owner to say that.”
Ali — who is a Muslim — said he has shopped here every week for years, and shopkeepers know he is a Muslim. “There’s never been a problem,” he said.
But Latifa Aimaq is urging Muslims and others to boycott the store. She said she has never encountered hostility at an airport, bank or the department of motor vehicles, where she does discreetly reveal her face when the law requires.
“I began to cover fully three years ago,” she said. “It’s not mandatory to cover your face, but it’s highly recommended.”
Aimaq is an English teacher at an Islamic school and says she covers for modesty.
Chris Perez says he wants to honor her beliefs and customs if she will honor his store rules.
After all, Perez says — he needs her more than she needs him. “In today’s economy, why would I turn down anybody’s money?”