The war in the Persian Gulf is testing much more than just Americans' courage abroad. Also in the crucible is the ability of our citizens to remain civil and tolerant here at home.

That isn't always easy because of the passions naturally aroused by armed conflict. But in the course of fighting aggression elsewhere, we simply must protect American rights and values on our own shores.Of particular concern just now is the treatment of Arab-Americans, some of whom fear possible harassment similar to - if not as extreme as - that suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Those fears were inflamed when FBI agents began interviewing Arab-Americans in regard to potential terrorist activities following the outbreak of the fighting in the gulf.

But the FBI has taken too much criticism on this score not just from Arab-Americans from but a variety of quarters. Invariably, the agents were polite and even friendly. What's more, they tried to make it clear that - besides seeking information about potential domestic terrorists - the bureau stands ready to investigate hate crimes, too.

Such crimes, rather than government activities, are the biggest potential threat to the estimated 150,000 Americans with roots in Iraq - and to American fair play.

Keep in mind that plenty of Iraqi-Americans have ample reason to detest Saddam Hussein, too. But it isn't always for them to speak out because of the possibility of retaliation against family members and friends still in Iraq. Moreover, there is some evidence that Baghdad has plotted to kill some Iraqi-Americans within the United States who publicly opposed Saddam.

Keep in mind, too, the diversity of Iraqi-Americans. Some are Muslims, others are Christians. Some live in tight ethnic neighborhoods, others blend into suburbia. Some came here for freedom, others to get an education or a job. They are teachers, grocers, auto workers and pursue a wide variety of other occupations. So unflattering portrayals of them are inaccurate and unfair besides exacerbating tensions.

Like all other immigrants, Arab-Americans should be considered part of America's strength. It isn't always easy to keep a clear head in time of war, particularly if terrorist attacks erupt. But if we are to remain worthy of our troops in the field, we all will avoid blind hate and remain tolerant and civil.