Tensions stemming from Islamophobia in Dearborn, Michigan

This past week saw two publicized incidents of Islamophobia in the nation’s most densely populated Arab-American center. The first, on Wednesday, saw a seeming act of bigoted arson in which an event center associated with a Dearborn mosque was burned and sprayed with anti-Arab graffiti. I think that it is no coincidence that this event occurred just days before the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn. This festival often draws anti-Arab and anti-Islam sentiments, with fundamentalist groups protesting alongside the festivities, often not knowing the difference between Arabs and Muslims, or conflating both identities.

Remains of a Tuesday evening fire at a storage area in Dearborn. Photo taken Wednesday, June 13, 2012.

This seems to have happened again this year as a Christian “missionary” group once again targeted the festival, seemingly ignorant of the many Christian Arabs in the area. While many Arabs are Muslims (although only less than 1/5 of Muslims are Arabs), it somehow made sense to the leaders of this group to lead anti-Muslim demonstrations at an Arab festival. (I wonder if this group also targets Indonesian or South Asian festivals as these regions actually have the highest  number of Muslims in the world).  As expected, there were a series of ugly exchanges from protesters and festival-goers. While many of the festival-goers did react disrespectfully, one cannot completely blame them. They live in a society where they cannot peacefully celebrate their own roots. They cannot embrace America’s “melting pot” rhetoric. Their city is under constant scrutiny, and some may identify as  Arab without identifying as Muslim, which given by the circumstances of the protests, seems to be an absurdity to many who don’t know whether they oppose Arabs or Muslims or which one of these “insults” they should direct at Barack Obama.

While these anti-Arab/Muslim/diversity groups have the right to exercise freedom of speech, I think they should be more clear as to what they are, exactly, protesting. I will end by saying that I refuse to refer to these protesters as missionaries. How is belittling others and appearing as bigoted hate-filled individuals going to call people to your religion? The fact that these individuals label themselves as missionaries is beyond comical.

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