WHEN NEWS BROKE on Wednesday of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Yasmine Mustafa recoiled in horror. Then, as usual, she texted one of her brothers.
"I hope they're not Muslims," she wrote nervously.
That's always Mustafa's worry when an act of horror unfolds like the one perpetrated last week by husband-and-wife monsters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. The couple mowed down 35 of Farook's colleagues at a Christmas banquet for the San Bernardino County Health Department, killing 14 of them.
Because nothing says "Happy Holidays" like bringing devastation to the loved ones of good, ordinary and decent working people.
"When I heard they had Muslim-sounding names, I thought, oh, no," says Mustafa, 33, who was born in Kuwait and fled to Philly with her parents and five siblings in 1990 as Saddam Hussein's bombs dropped. She still lives in the city and worries that hatred and stereotyping will intensify against U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern descent whose ethnicity breeds misunderstanding among the fearful.
In 2001, when she was 19, she experienced the bigotry firsthand.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, she returned to her job as a teller at a race track, where she was slaving her way through college. Her boss asked, "You don't know how to fly a plane, do you?"
She was heartbroken by the question. A few days later, she was fired.
"It was depressing and sad," says Yasmine. "I kept thinking, 'But I didn't do anything.' "
She fared better than one of her brothers, who was harassed and beaten up so often, he legally changed his first name to "Adam" and his last to something very generic that I won't print here, to protect him from the idiots.
"His name had been Osama," says Yasmine. "You can only imagine how bad it was for him."
She also worried about possible Muslim connections in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. And the Sandy Hook massacre. And the shootings in Roseburg, Isla Vista, Fort Hood, Colorado Springs, Chatanooga, Charleston, Santa Monica and .
"It's routine," says Yasmine, who is a U.S. citizen, as are her family members. "You feel horror for the victims and their families. And then the worry begins."
She's not paranoid - her anxiety is shared around the globe. In the first week after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, for example, hate crimes against Muslims increased threefold in the United Kingdom alone, according to Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), a UK non-governmental organization.
Why wouldn't they ratchet up here, too? Anti-Muslim sentiment is already five times higher in America than it was before the attacks of 9/11.
Mustafa doesn't need stats, though, to tell her that Muslims - and even those mistaken for Muslims - are feeling the wrath of those who lump them in with religious extremists. She just has to look at some of the email she gets at ROAR For Good, the West Philly tech company she founded to produce "safety jewelry" that aims to reduce assaults.
The company's first product is a pendant/pin called Athena that, with the push of a button, emits an alarm and light and texts the wearer's location to others. Presales are through the roof for Athena, which will be shipped in the spring to buyers in 47 countries.
"Since the Paris attack, we've gotten emails from Muslim women who are being harassed for wearing the hijab. They're scared," says Mustafa, who was raised Muslim but does not practice the religion. "They've ordered Athena and wanted to know when they could get it. I told them it's coming out in May, maybe sooner, and that I understood completely where they were coming from."
This is such a frightening time.
The loved ones of those killed in San Bernardino, in Paris, in Mali are reeling; the survivors of the attacks are changed for life. And fear can make the rest of us crazy as we try to keep our own loved ones safe from harm.
But it's insane to malign all Muslims for what extremists are doing. My heart hurts for people like Yasmine, who is as fine an American as you could ask for.
When 9/11 happened, she tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, to defend the country that had saved her family's lives years before, but she was not yet a citizen and her application was turned down.
She worked like a dog to get through Temple University; became an entrepreneur; sold her first company before she was 30 and founded a second one. ROAR for Good (with business partner Anthony Gold) is her third.
A percentage of ROAR for Good's proceeds will be invested in nonprofits that are teaching children about empathy and healthy relationships, so that, one day, maybe no one will need a device like Athena in the first place.
That's Mustafa's lofty goal, and it sounds as pie-in-the-sky as every American's dream does, when the dreamer is fired up by what's possible in this country.
"I want to make the world safer and better for everyone," says Mustafa, sounding more American than a lot of Americans who've been here since birth.
She's the antithesis of those with Middle-Eastern names who have brought heartache and horror to San Bernardino, and Paris, and Mali.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly