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Extremist groups ground Detroit’s Arab Festival
For the past 18 years, the International Arab American Festival in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, has showcased the finest talent of Arab culture in America. It was the mother of all Arab festivals, drawing more than 300,000 attendees during its three-day weekend run every summer in June and organized by the Arab American Chamber of Commerce.
This year, though, the festival was abruptly cancelled. The reasons are unclear. What’s not unclear are the controversies swirling around the festival and the hatemongers who used the festival to spew their racist views. The festival’s cancellation is proof that racism and hatred are rampant in America. It shows that double standards exist when dealing with racism and hate.
However, it is not just a problem in Detroit. Two years ago, the Chicago Arab Festival was cancelled after the election of Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel served in the Israeli military as a volunteer. (Why didn’t he volunteer with the US military? That question is called “anti-Semitic”.) And he has been hostile to Arabs, though friendly to non-Arab Muslims.
Detroit’s problem involves extremist activists. In 2010, three Christian extremists notorious for their anti-Muslim rhetoric on YouTube started a ruckus by provoking unsuspecting Arab Festival attendees. The police were called when it became a confrontation and the three Christian religious extremists were arrested.
In 2011, another group of Christian extremists brought a pig’s head to the festival, a clear provocation to insult Muslims. And this year, Florida whack-job “Pastor” Terry Jones vowed to be on hand to burn copies of the Qur’an. The lawyer representing the 2010 extremists is associated with Muslim hater Pamela Geller. He convinced a court that his clients’ rights were violated and Dearborn was ordered, ridiculously, to settle financially and with a public apology.
Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly has been fair and respectful to everyone, including the city’s large Arab population. After the 2010 fiasco, his view of hosting the festival soured. The Arab Chamber decided to move the festival this year to a local park and, for the first time, planned to charge admission.
Under the cloud of the swirling controversies, Chamber officials this week cancelled the festival. That’s a shame. A shame for Dearborn. A shame for Arab Americans. A shame for true Christians. And a shame for America. It’s a shame that a handful of extremists can disrupt an event because of their obvious dislike of another religious group. To normal people, the festival showcased the best of Arab culture and heritage.
All religions have extremists who want attention. Many want to prevent others from enjoying their rights as Americans. Muslims have fanatics, too. Yet I doubt as an Arab that any court is going to sympathize with an Arab plaintiff. Had the issue been Arabs pushing extremist views at a Jewish festival, no judge in America would rule in favor of the Arabs. But in Metro Detroit, the bizarre is the reality. Laws that prevent hate crimes and discrimination are one-way streets when it comes to defending Arab rights. That’s driven by increased racism.
Americans are the most educated people in the world but the least educated about the world. When it comes to the Middle East, Arabs and Muslims, most Americans are just ignorant of the facts. There are seven million Muslims in the United States and Arab Muslims are the minority, only 22 percent. The majority are Asian Muslims and African Muslims who have nothing to do with the Middle East.
Mischaracterized as all being Muslim, Arabs are discriminated against in America across-the-board. They are blocked from jobs in many industries like journalism. They are routinely falsely accused of terrorism because of public fears driven by ignorance. TV shows embrace anti-Arab racism, like Showtime’s popular series “Homeland” and Fox TV’s equally popular “24.”
When a white person commits an act of violence, it’s called a crime. When an Arab or Muslim commits an act of violence, it’s called terrorism. That’s the “American way.” Double standards distort the US Constitution which is applied differently depending on political convenience and popular stereotypes. Even Internet institutions like Facebook and Google have been getting into the act discriminating against Arabs and Muslims. Google is shutting down blogs and websites belonging to American Arabs for no reason.
Instead of celebrating our heritage as American Arabs with a festival, we should organize protests against the rise in anti-Arab hatred and racism. But that would require that American Arabs have good leadership and unfortunately, we don’t. Many of our problems are our own fault. During the 2010 event, some young Muslims were videotaped responding by denouncing Christianity. That allowed the extremists to assert that they were the victims, when they were not.
Metro Detroit’s Arab community is notoriously divided, too. Not everyone came to the festival’s defense.
Not only do Arabs lack leadership, but many of them lack commonsense as well. Arabs make it worse because they don’t like to discuss problems, like our internal religious tensions or the lack of good leaders. It is these failures in the Arab community that empower the extremists who hate us.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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