NPR Special Report: Muslims in America
Part Three: Middle East Heritage in America's Heartland
Listen to Duncan Moon's report on the outspoken Muslim community of Dearborn, Mich.
Nov. 5, 2001 -- More than a quarter of a million people of Arab descent live in southeastern Michigan, making the area the second-largest Arab community outside the Middle East (after Paris, France).
Each year the Michigan community gets bigger: Annually, about 5,000 Arab immigrants enter the United States through Detroit. And many of them are Muslims, a religion in the spotlight since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
If there is a center to Michigan’s Arab-American community, it is in Dearborn, west of Detroit. There, NPR Religion Correspondent Duncan Moon discovered a close-knit community proud of its heritage, eager to prove its patriotism -- but outspoken about what needs to be done to address terrorism at it roots.
Moon met many who oppose the “holy war” against the United States and its allies. But many there also told him they hope the Bush administration will consider changes to U.S. foreign policy as part of the war on terrorism.
Many Arab and Muslim Americans in Dearborn feel that U.S. policy in the Middle East favors Israel over the Palestinians. If President Bush wants to fight the war on terrorism, some decisive changes in foreign policy would be very effective in undercutting the appeal terrorists have in certain parts of the Muslim world, they say.
Moon also met many in Dearborn who are sharply critical of the U.S. policy on Iraq. Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power, while UNICEF estimates show that about 50,000 Iraqi children die each year because of economic sanctions. And some warn that the suffering can go on for only so much longer before the Arab world explodes.
Assad Tar-sain, who's majoring in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, told Moon: “There's a proverb in Arabic that says silence regarding a matter is a sign of its acceptance. How are the Americans sitting by and letting this happen? Why are they funding this?
"If you are really American, you should act really American. And one of the ways to act really American is to participate in the system."
Abed Hammoud, candidate for mayor of Dearborn
“That comes from their ignorance, as well as assuming that the American public (is) supporting this -- but silence is acceptance. Why do people hate America? It’s because our government has not protected our image,” Tar-sain told Moon. ”The government doesn't portray what it is to be an American.”
Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News -- a respected, Dearborn-based newspaper with a weekly circulation of 25,000 -- says Arab and Muslim Americans are pleased that President Bush supports the concept of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But Siblani says the United States must take a more active role in making it happen.
“We have to bring (Israel and the Palestinians) together, locking their knees and their eyes and then telling them do it!” Siblani said. “We have to take the leadership because we are the leaders of the free world.”
Abed Hammoud, who is running for mayor of Dearborn, believes the key to changing U.S. policy is to embrace the political process. He says the time has come for Arab and Muslim Americans to become players in the system that creates policy: to become citizens, to vote, even to run for office.
“If you are really American, you should act really American,” Hammoud said. “And one of the ways to act really American is to participate in the system.”
Islam.com, a Los Angeles-based Web site with comprehensive information and links to Muslim culture worldwide.
Islam in the United States: a report from the U.S. Department of State.
President Bush's directive on racial profiling dated Feb. 28, 2001, with links to Web sites about racial profiling.
Search the Koran by key words or phrases.