Lebanese-Americans Are Angry and Anxious Dearborn, Mich., just outside Detroit, is home to the largest Lebanese community in America. Residents here are passionate about the crisis in the Middle East.
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Lebanese-Americans Are Angry and Anxious

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Lebanese-Americans Are Angry and Anxious

Lebanese-Americans Are Angry and Anxious

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Greater Detroit is fast becoming a battleground of ideas among people on either side of the current Middle East crisis. Dearborn, just outside Detroit, is home to the country's largest Lebanese American community, most from southern Lebanon. The area's active Jewish community has long standing ties with communities in northern Israel.

Today and tomorrow we'll hear two stories about how the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has affected each community.

NPR's Guy Raz begins with this report from Dearborn.

GUY RAZ reporting:

Not too far from Henry Ford's historic mansion, Naim Bazzi proudly lives in the tony part of Dearborn. Bazzi left southern Lebanon penniless in 1976. His is a typical Lebanese American success story of poverty to prosperity.

RAZ: Hi.

Mr. NAIM BAZZI (Resident of Dearborn, Michigan): Hi, well come on in.

RAZ: Are you Naim?

Mr. BAZZI: Yes.

RAZ: Guy Raz, how are you?

Mr. BAZZI: How are you doing, Guy?

RAZ: Bazzi is in his mid-50s. He and about 14 Lebanese men sit somberly on chairs in a circle in the front living room of his suburban home. They are here to mourn, to pay their respects. Naim Bazzi lost his elderly mother, Amina, in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbail last week. She was too old and too weak to leave when the fighting broke out. Naim had lost contact with his parents, but a few days ago he was watching al-Jazeera when he saw his elderly father being interviewed.

Mr. BAZZI: He says five hours ago, my wife died right on my arms. What happened? No medicine, no water, nothing. Her medicine not with us. We couldn't get no medicine. We couldn't get out. That's why she died. She lasted 15 days in this situation.

RAZ: His mother had run out of blood thinners and her kidney medication.

Mr. BAZZI: All these details, I found it out from the television, of what my father was telling the reporters.

RAZ: Naim Bazzi's story might be unique elsewhere, but in Dearborn, he's just one of 10,000 people with roots in the Lebanese village of Bint Jbail.

Warren Avenue is the nexus of Arab Dearborn. Lebanese flags flutter everywhere. Nearly every sign is in English and Arabic, some of them with familiar names like the Shatila Bakery, after the infamous Beirut refugee camp, or the Bint Jbail Community Center.

Now most Arab Americans are Christians, but in Dearborn, the majority are Shiite Muslims from south Lebanon and Iraq. So it's not uncommon to see fully covered women strolling down the sidewalks here.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: The Islamic Center in Dearborn is the largest Shiite mosque in the country. On a recent afternoon, about a dozen families, all just back from Lebanon, came here to speak with community therapists. Dr. Adnan Hammad says since the crisis began a month ago, the community mental health clinic has been inundated with new patients.

Dr. ADNAN HAMMAD (Islamic Center, Dearborn, Michigan): We are seeing anxiety attacks. We are seeing clients who actually come to us and we refer them to emergency rooms. We are seeing collective depression. We are seeing community depression and we are seeing individual depression.

RAZ: The conflict that has left parts of Lebanon in ruins has had an immeasurable impact on this community. There are those in Dearborn who do believe Hezbollah had made a mistake by attacking Israel, but it has also coarsened the rhetoric in the city.

Mr. OSAMA SIBLANI (Arab American News): Arab American News, this is Osama.

RAZ: Osama Siblani runs the Arab American News, the country's largest such newspaper. His office television set is tuned to al-Jazeera, from where he gets most of his news about the fighting.

Mr. SIBLANI: The anger that you see in the Arab community, you do not see in the eyes of the American community because they're not seeing the same thing, they're not viewing the same thing. And the perspective you get out of al-Jazeera or al-Arabiya, or any other Arab satellite, you do not get it out of Fox News or CNN.

RAZ: Siblani says many in the community who opposed Hezbollah before the fighting have now changed their minds.

As you know, the State Department has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Would you agree with that or would you disagree?

Mr. SIBLANI: No, I totally disagree. The terrorist in here is the Bush administration.

(Soundbite of protest)

RAZ: Who is your Army, these young college-aged men chant? Hezbollah, they respond. Who is your leader? Nashrallah, they say. And many carry placards of the Hezbollah leader. This is one of the daily demonstrations in Dearborn against the fighting. It was organized by the Congress of Arab American Organizations in Michigan. About 1,000 people show up. A few days earlier, more than 15,000 turned out. That's about half of the Arab community in Dearborn.

Now the hard core who regularly come out tend to be the most strident, sometimes even extreme. Oh, Jews, remember Khaibar, the marchers chant. The army of the Prophet will return.

According to Islamic tradition, Khaibar was a Jewish town north of Medina that was sacked by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. Once defeated, the surviving Jews of Khaibar were subjected to an existence of serfdom for two decades before being expelled from the Arabian Peninsula.

A few days after the rally, I meet Abed Hammoud at the Islamic Center. Hammoud's day job is assistant county prosecutor, but his passion is advocating on behalf of the Congress of Arab American Organizations. He came to America from south Lebanon in 1990, his hometown just a few miles from the Israeli border.

Mr. ABED HAMMOUD (Congress of Arab American Organizations): Every night before I go to sleep I can see the lights of the settlements.

RAZ: The settlements in Israel?

Mr. HAMMOUD: Yeah, occupied Palestine, I like to call it.

RAZ: When you say settlements, you're talking about towns in the West Bank and Gaza, or you're talking about -

Mr. HAMMOUD: No, all the towns in Israel are settlements.

RAZ: Hammoud regards Israeli air strikes as war crimes and atrocities and attacks he does not hesitate to compare with Nazi Germany.

Mr. HAMMOUD: The Nazis used to kill, especially Jewish, you know, people. They used the ovens, right, and they used all the concentration camps. The Israelis use F-16s and burning bombs and all kinds of smart bombs. I'm sorry. A death of a child is a death of a child.

RAZ: Nasser Beydoun balks at that comparison, but is deeply troubled by the fighting. Beydoun runs the American Arab Chamber of Commerce and has worked closely with the Jewish community in the past. But the war now raging, he says, has tested that relationship.

Mr. NASSER BEYDOUN (American Arab Chamber of Commerce): I think that what bothers me the most is I, as an Arab American leader, will condemn actions that I feel are morally wrong and repugnant, but in the Jewish community, there is a wall of silence that Israel can do no wrong, and if it does do wrong, we can't publicly condemn it.

RAZ: Dearborn's Jewish community sees it differently. To them, Israel is defending itself. Many in the community see the fight as a war for survival against deadly enemies, the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. And they, too, are not backing away from their hardening views. But we'll hear that story tomorrow.

I'm Guy Raz, NPR News.

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