A Moroccan immigrant to Philadelphia was brutally attacked over the weekend in Center City just for speaking his native tongue, he claims.
Amine Aouam, 34, who is Muslim, said Tuesday while still shaky from the attack that he believes he was the victim of an anti-Arab or anti-Mulism hate crime.
"You think that would happen if I was speaking French or German? I don't," he said. "It was obviously a hate crime."
Aouam works as a valet at the Bellevue Hotel, and is also a full-time student at Temple studying finance. Now he’s missing work and school as he goes to follow-up CAT scans and MRIs while his pain slowly recedes — but the worst pain is psychological, he said.
"To be honest, the only bad thing that happened to me in this case is my heart is so broken now," he said. "They hate you because you talk something that they heard before and they don’t like it."
The attack occurred after Aouam and a friend went out for a drink after work on Saturday night.
Around midnight, turning from Broad Street onto Sansom, they encountered a group of five or six white people. One woman in the group would not stop staring at them as they spoke in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, which in and of itself is not entirely unusual, so Aouam greeted her.
“I said to her in Arabic, ‘Good evening,’ which is ‘Masaa al-Khair.’ She said ‘What?’ and I said, ‘I just said ‘Good evening.’ Then I walked. And the guy next to her was like ‘Stop this s---!’"
Aouam's friend, Youssef Amarouch, remembers it a bit more clearly. "Take that s--- you said and shove it up in your a--,” he recalled the man saying.
The last thing Aouam remembers is trying to explain that he had only said a greeting -- then he was waking up hours later at Jefferson University Hospital.
Amarouch said that as Aouam talked to one man, another sucker-punched him from behind.
"The guy came from his side and just punched him so bad. The first part of his body that hit the ground was his head," he said. "The whole thing happened in 10 seconds."
The Philadelphia Police Department confirmed that they are investigating the assault. Aouam is hopeful a nearby surveillance camera will help lead to the arrest of his attacker.
"I don’t want this guy to go to jail or get banished. I just want to ask him, ‘Why you do this?’" he said.
Going on seven years in the U.S., Aouam is fearful that "hate" is "increasing" right now.
"People have to wake up. They have to correct these mistakes. If we stay quiet, worse things are going to happen."