Posted by FYI (220.127.116.11) on November 04, 2001 at 20:40:01:
By Steve Miller
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On an aging concrete wall that lines the Lodge Freeway, the creed "Free Palestine" is emblazoned in black spray paint.
The sentiment speaks volumes here, where the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in this country exist, a population of around 350,000 — mostly of Arab and Chaldean descent.
Despite its Christian majority, it is also a place the local FBI and state police called "a major financial support center for many Mideast terrorist groups" in a private intelligence report. The report said 28 terrorist groups — mostly Muslim — are "represented" in Michigan, including the al Qaeda network.
The outrage from the Arab community to the report's findings was instantaneous, while the apologies from local law enforcement were immediate and profuse.
The idea of a Palestinian state draws a prickly defense from many here in the Arab community. Yet it is also the same call sounded by Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. This has led many Arab-Americans to charge that law enforcement officials are confusing widespread sympathy for Palestinian statehood with support for bin Laden.
"When Osama bin Laden says that he wants a Palestinian state, well this is the same thing that we want. Then people make that connection between us and bin Laden," says Steve George, a 37-year-old lawyer from Plymouth, a suburb of Detroit.
Dearborn, a starting point
This settlement, however, predates bin Laden's terrorist days by almost 80 years. It was during the mid-1920s when Middle Easterners began flocking to Southeast Michigan, drawn by the auto factories and their $5 a day wages.
A gold-domed mosque sits almost in the shadow of the River Rouge plant of the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn's South End.
In the working-class neighborhoods of Dearborn, where families live in solid, red-brick homes that were born out of the post-World War II economic boom, the streets are a Westernized version of Islam.
Women wearing the traditional veil, or hijab, drive Lexus sport utility vehicles and dented 1979 Chevy Novas. Once in a while, one can be seen taking a clandestine puff on a cigarette, a sign that Western vice has made its way into the Muslim lifestyle.
Most store signs are written in both Arabic and English. Some even do not display English.
"It is no different than Little Italy, or the Cuban community in Miami, or Chinatown in San Francisco," notes Adel Harb, a lawyer who came to the United States from Lebanon with his parents when he was 12. "There are people with successes and failures, gains and losses."
Al-Berdaun Restaurant, on Chase Avenue, has an American flag imprinted on its large, ornate sign.
Other establishments — a driving school, a camera shop — discourage visitors, claiming a language barrier. The reality is, though, that some of the residents prefer to congregate with their own.
The entire 26-square miles of the town of 100,000 is a pastiche of Arab and American cultures, as the first generation of American-born sons and daughters become adults.
Many are now very successful, becoming doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs.
Dearborn is a veritable Middle Eastern Mecca.
"You really don't even have to speak English in this community, if you don't want to," explains Nabil Saad, the 33-year-old owner of Chase Fruit Market. Like almost all of the residents of the Chase Street area, he is of Lebanese descent, coming to the United States in 1989.
He came for the same reason so many immigrants flock to this country: "A better life," he said. "There was war at home."
His store, full of vegetables, fruits and canned goods, is the center of the community.
A young man of about 20, long-haired, bearded, blue collar, leaves the store with the words, "Thank you and God bless."
Harassment reports 'inflated'
Mr. Saad says that reports of widespread harassment of Arab-Americans following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been exaggerated.
"This talk about Arab-Americans being harassed is a big misconception," he said. "I have had a great reaction. I hear all of this, and I thought, 'Well, maybe my suppliers won't work with me any more.'
"But I have had well wishes from all of them, and all of my customers, Italian, black, white," he adds.
Jeff Youssef, standing in the market gabbing with anyone who walks by, says the same thing.
"The harassment has been inflated," he said. "The media has decided that is the story. But we are mostly left alone. Most people, no matter what color, get hassled at some point."
Adds Angela Harb, a West Bloomfield woman of Palestinian descent: "These communities are very tight, and in some cases, some don't even see others."
Growing up in Livonia, Miss Harb, 41, never went to school dances.
"Instead, our community had its own affairs. Even when I go away, I miss seeing my culture everywhere," she said.
Tim Attalla has three children — Omar, Yusef and Allie. Mr. Attalla feared initially that they would be subject to the anti-Arab insults that were so widely reported by some media outlets. He lives in Northville, an affluent upscale suburb.
"They have had no problems at all," Mr. Attalla said. "I think the media does more harm than the other kids."
While the Arab-American media has also protested loudly about racial profiling and attacks on U.S. Muslims, most will, under direct questioning, say the incidents are isolated.
When the Rev. George Shalhoub told media callers that he had received no threats following the September 11 attacks, the conversation was over.
"They didn't want to talk to me at all if I wasn't being threatened," said Mr. Shalhoub, a Syrian immigrant who presides over St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church in the suburb of Livonia.
Not always a quiet community
At Pharaoh's Cafe, the big-screen television is a centerpiece, the hummus, baba ghanoush, a Middle Eastern eggplant dish and pita bread are secondary. The cafe's attraction to its customers is that it offers an all-Arab television package, which provides 11 channels of Arab broadcasting, including a station devoted to Islamic studies and worship.
"We all get it," says the owner of the eatery, eagerly surfing through the stations.
Residents are keenly aware of world affairs, more so than most Americans. The war against terrorism is conversation fodder almost everywhere. Current events have stirred this community for some time, and their immigration here has not inhibited them in exercising their First Amendment freedoms.
In 1972, some 50 demonstrators marched in Dearborn's south end to support Arab nationalism in the Middle East, marking the fifth anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
In 1986, local Arab leaders condemned U.S. air raids in Libya. The bombings were in retaliation for the terrorist attack in West Berlin that killed an Army sergeant, who was from Detroit, and wounded about 50 other Americans.
With the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan having unleashed strong patriotic sentiments, and with Arabs hoping to gain U.S. support and sympathy for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, the mood in Dearborn is a bit more sedate.
"It was a handful of radicals" who were behind those previous local demonstrations, says Isa Hasan, a 58-year-old Palestinian who came to America in 1962. "Unfortunately, those demonstrations had small numbers but have left the impression that the whole Arab community agrees with them," he said. "That situation was very similar to the one we face today."
"There was a madman who killed people," Mr. Hasan says, referring to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. "That is how things are now. But you don't see us protesting."
Mr. Shalhoub's church is known as the one that Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham attends. The former U.S. senator is of Lebanese heritage and has immense influence in the Arab community.
"He is the first of us to really make it in politics," said one parishioner with breathless admiration.
September 11 has also made the mayoral race in Dearborn much more compelling because of the candidacy of Abed Hammoud, a 35-year-old native of Lebanon and an assistant Wayne County prosecutor.
Challenging the four-term incumbent, Mayor Michael Guido, Mr. Hammoud has little chance of winning, most observers say.
But he has made a gallant attempt and indicates a political profile on the rise for Arab-Americans in the Detroit area.
"We took care of our immediate needs — education, home, family — when we got here; now we are ready to participate in the political process," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, a 25,000-circulation weekly. He cites Mr. Abraham and Dearborn city council member Suzanne Sareini, both Republicans, as the most prominent Arab politicians from Michigan — so far.
Mr. Siblani is supporting Mr. Hammoud, a Democrat.
At a recent fund-raiser, Mr. Hammoud nervously greeted campaign donors at the Fairlane Club.
He smiled for the television cameras, hugged his children and his wife, Mona. Mr. Hammoud doesn't doubt he should have the complete support of the Arab community, which represents about a quarter of the residents in Dearborn.
"It is a significant bloc, and I do deserve it," he says with candor, glancing at the door for more supporters. "If I can get 80 percent of them, I will be there."
Post a Followup