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Ann Arborites gather for "meet your Muslim neighbors"

Feb 26, 2017

Sunday evening, neighbors from east Ann Arbor gathered at the clubhouse of a local sub-division last night for an event they called “meet your Muslim neighbors."

Susan Dushane called the event a “patriotic response” against instances of racism in media reports and in comment sections of the internet.

“So often when you say ‘I’m a patriot,' people suspect you’re some sort of militia-person or something,” Dushane said. “The people who are patriots here are welcoming, open people, and that’s what’s happening.

“There’s a surge of feeling against the racism that’s being shown.”

Dozens of people filled the clubhouse at Earhart condominiums, taking turns coming to the front of the room, sharing their cultural background and welcoming each other to the neighborhood.

People addressing the larger crowd made points of explicitly welcoming Muslims and other minorities into their neighborhood. 

Planning started after someone on a neighborhood social media website asked why police cars were stationed outside the local Islamic center.

After that question sparked much conversation, according to Dushane, one neighbor, Amir Kamouneh, suggested coming together at a place for everyone to meet each other and make friends.

Dushane said she would work to find a place. Kamouneh said he’d bring the snacks.

At the event Sunday, Kamouneh told the story of coming to the United States from Iran in 1978 after studying briefly in London as a teenager. He said in those years he personally witnessed prejudice against people from the Middle East in countries across Europe. Then, Kamouneh’s younger sister told him to come to the United States, because there were Americans citizens of different ethnicities, from the Middle East and other parts of the world.

“That was such a surprising concept,” Kamouneh said. “To actually go to a foreign country and have natives that look like me. I came to the United States in 1978 to continue my education, and I fell in love.”

Kamouneh describes seeing social efforts in those years to push for integration. For him, inclusiveness and integration was “the ideal.”

“I am saddened (now), as some others have said, that today, the spirit has changed to a spirit of exclusion,” Kamouneh said. “To divide, rather than bring people together as a nation.”

A majority of people in attendance at “meet your Muslim neighbor” seemed to be white people. Kamouneh says it is likely that Muslims and other people who are minorities can feel nervous about inserting themselves into a public community.

“My hope is that the larger community does not keep waiting for Muslims to initiate such interaction, but actually reaches out to them.”

As for the event, Kamouneh called the close personal conversations between neighbors part “the answer” to social prejudice and indifference, and called for people to be more empathic, to envision walking in the shoes of people who may look, talk, or pray, differently than themselves.

“A lot of people have very strong feelings about these issues.... A lot of people stood up and spoke and gave ideas, they gave opinions,” Kamouneh said. “I think grassroots (activism) works.”