Arab Americans

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A prominent Palestinian-American activist faces up to ten years in prison and the loss of her US citizenship after being found guilty of immigration fraud.

Rasmea Odeh, 67, was convicted in a Detroit federal court Monday of gaining US naturalization and citizenship unlawfully.

Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court of involvement in a 1969 Jerusalem bombing. She did not disclose that information on immigration papers, according to federal officials.

Lars Plougmann / Creative Commons

Update: we've now obtained the city clerk's (now rescinded) resignation letter from July 22, and we've updated the story to include the information it provides. 

Something “fishy” is going on at the Dearborn Heights city clerk's office.

That's how the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee puts it.

They say they're getting dozens of complaints from Arab Americans who tried to get absentee ballots in Dearborn Heights – and ran into trouble at the city clerk’s office.

The festival in past years.
The Arab American News.com

Michigan Radio is launching M I Curious - a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

Our first installment of M I Curious originated with Jeff Duncan, a firefighter from Sterling Heights. He submitted this question:

Why is there such a large Arab American community in southeast Michigan?

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people gathered at a Warren park this past weekend for a picnic celebrating World Refugee Day--and the area’s growing refugee community.

According to state data, of the 4658 refugees re-settled in Michigan last year, nearly three-quarters are from Iraq.

And many of them have settled in Macomb County suburbs, particularly Sterling Heights and Warren.

Inside the Arab American National Museum.
www.accesscommunity.org

Earlier this month there was the annual anti-Islam rally in Dearborn (although more cops than actual protestors showed up.) 

A few days before that, police investigated the burning of several Qurans outside a local Mosque. 

 And in February, an Arab-American man won more than $1 million dollars in a lawsuit over the religious and racial harassment he said he suffered at work.  

Inside the Arab American National Museum.
www.accesscommunity.org

DEARBORN, Michigan – The Arab American National Museum plans to host Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for a tour, meetings with community leaders and town hall-style event.

The museum in Dearborn says the visit is planned for Monday, including remarks by Snyder around midday. 

Dearborn has large Arab and Muslim populations. The museum says Manal Saab, who is on the museum's National Advisory Board, invited the governor to visit.

The festival in past years.
The Arab American News.com

The festival has been canceled for the second year in a row due to higher liability insurance costs for festival organizers.

The three-day festival in Dearborn celebrated Arab culture and was one the largest gatherings of Arab Americans in the U.S., but it also attracted anti-Islamic protestors and Christian missionaries from around the country.

Niraj Warikoo reports for the Detroit Free Press:

Tensions at the festival broke out in 2010 when a group of Christian missionaries arrived with video cameras to record their attempts to debate Muslims. Some were arrested for disturbing the peace, though later acquitted of most charges. Their arrests drew outrage from conservatives across the U.S.

Another Christian group filed a lawsuit against the city, saying the missionaries were restricted in where they could distribute their literature. In 2012, a separate group of Christians brought a pig’s head mounted on a pole with anti-Islam signs, resulting in some youth hurling bottles at them.

Warikoo reports that Dearborn was forced to pay $300,000 to the Christian missionaries arrested in 2010.

The Arab-American Chamber of Commerce says they’re still looking for ways to move forward with the festival.

House Republicans have come up with an annual $500 million solution to fixing Michigan's horrible damaged roads. Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press joins us to discuss the proposition. 

A Clinton Township man was senselessly beaten and robbed on Detroit's east side after stopping to help a 10-year-old boy who stepped into oncoming traffic. Steve Utash is now in a medically induced coma. Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press joins us to try and understand this crime. 

A neighborhood church in Metro Detroit has closed its doors about 91 years. St. Henry's parish numbers have fallen so low that the church is closing. Stateside's Kyle Norris grew up attending the church, and she joins us today to share her story.

Wikimedia Commons

As the city of Detroit seeks pathways back to economic health, small businesses are seen as a key. And there can be no conversation about small business owners in Detroit without involving the Arab-American community. 

Most of the grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations in Detroit are owned by Arab-Americans.

And, historically, the relationship between these store owners and their largely African-American customers has been not without its tensions. 

Which is why a recent editorial in The Arab American News caught our eye, and we wanted to share its message with you. 

We're joined now by Osama Siblani, the publisher of The Arab American News.

Listen to the full interview above. 

A new festival will feature comedians from Arab-American and other minority backgrounds. 

The 1001 Laughs Dearborn Comedy Festival happens September 27 and 28 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.

Amer Zahr is the festival's producer and he'll also be performing a few sets.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

How best to deal with the extremely messy situation in Syria?

That’s the question the U.S. government and the international community are wrestling with right now. But it’s one that Syrian expatriates have wrestled with in a different, more intimate way for more than two years.

Metro Detroit has one of the nation’s largest and oldest Syrian communities. How have they dealt with the crisis? How are they using the community’s social and economic resources to help?  

A long history, but strong ties

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

As Congress prepares to debate a plan of action in Syria—and President Obama tries to build support for a US military strike--Metro Detroit’s Syrian community is showing their support for American intervention.

Dozens of Syrian-Americans protested President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in suburban Detroit Friday.

Flickr user carywaynepeterson / Flickr

There's been a new development in the debate over garages in Dearborn.

You may recall some residents in Dearborn have been using their garages as gathering spaces, some equipped with sliding glass doors, couches, refrigerators, water pipes, and TVs. This has been especially popular with Dearborn's large Arab community.

This week, the Dearborn Planning Commission approved changes in rules governing the way Dearbornites may use their garages, and there are those in the Arab community who feel these rule changes are a direct slap at them.

Jeff Karoub has been covering this debate for the Associated Press and he joined us today from Detroit.

Listen to the full interview above.

Billions and billions of federal dollars, hundreds of different policies, all rest in the U.S. Farm Bill. With very little bipartisanship in Washington these days, it's not too surprising that it's taken so long for Congress to make a deal on the legislation. But, time is running out. Why can’t the 2013 Farm Bill just get done and what does it means for the Michigan and U.S. economies?

And, we took a temperature-check. Just how do local officials think the state Legislature is doing?

Also, the Dearborn Planning Commission approved changes in rules governing the way residents may use their garages, but some people in the Arab community feel the changes are a direct slap at them.

First on the show, there's been an apology from Detroit's emergency manager for those now-infamous comments made in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. That's where Kevyn Orr described Detroit in these words: "For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich."

Orr offered up a mea culpa in an interview with WXYZ-TV.

What effect will those words and the apology have on Orr's ability to work with Detroit leaders and citizens?

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes joined us today.

wikipedia.org

The Arab-American Civil Rights League says hundreds of Arab-Americans received letters from Huntington Bank this year explaining that their accounts have been closed, shut down or terminated.

No reason was given for closing the accounts, and no other link exists between the private and business account holders, except that they are all Arab-American owned accounts.

Flickr

Should homeowners be allowed to do pretty much whatever they want with their garages, as long as it doesn't bother neighbors?

That's the essence of a growing debate in Dearborn, where a desire by some residents, largely Arab-Americans, to use their garages as living space is being met with resistance at City Hall and the prospect of tighter garage ordinances.

Jeff Karoub is with the Associated Press, covering issues pertinent to the Arab-Muslim community, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Dearborn Mosque
user rypix / Flickr

The site of the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn is moving and admission could be charged.

Niraj Warikoo reports for the Detroit Free Press that tensions in recent years involving Christian missionaries has led to the change of venue.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly said Friday that the city plans to shift the festival — the biggest annual outdoor gathering of Arab Americans in the U.S. — from Warren Avenue to Ford Woods Park, near the corner of Ford and Greenfield roads. One of the reasons for the move is liability concerns; the city has been hit with lawsuits from some Christian missionaries alleging their free speech rights were curtailed at the festival.

The 18-year-old festival is held each June by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, some Christian missionaries from California picketed at the festival with anti-Islam signs.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

An Arab American civil rights group says it’s hearing from a surge of people in southeast Michigan whose bank accounts were closed down without explanation.

The Arab American Civil Rights League says it’s received about a dozen complaints in the past month.

In each case, the bank notified the client that their account would be shut down. But they refused to provide an explanation.

Arab museum holds 8th annual film fest

Jan 6, 2013

An annual festival of movies from the Middle East is screening films rarely seen in the United States.

The Arab American National Museum in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn is hosting the 2013 festival that runs from Jan 24-26.

Photo from TLC's website

The groundbreaking reality show "All-American Muslim" has been canceled.

The show, which followed five Muslims families in Dearborn, will not be picked up for a second season, a TLC executive confirmed.

"I’m certainly sad to hear the show wasn’t being renewed," says Suehalia Amen, one of the women featured on the reality show.

She says "All-American Muslim" sought to humanize Muslims in a way mainstream media hadn’t done before…and it made viewers look at Muslims and Arab-Americans in a new light:

"It’s been an eye-opening experience," explains Amen. "To have people tell you 'I hated Muslims, and after your show I’m able to understand your community and have a new-found respect.'"

The show’s creator, Mike Mosallam, agrees. He says the show's ratings dropped throughout the season, but he says that doesn’t mean the show didn’t succeed on a cultural level in terms of "what it taught people and what it dispelled in terms of people’s perceptions. I mean those are things that no ratings will ever be able to show."

Flickr user Ian Kath

The Arab American National Museum wants to become more than “a building filled with stuff.” That’s why it’s recording the stories of everyday people as part of an on-going project.

The museum just released three interviews it did in conjunction with Storycorps, about profiling and stereotyping after 9-11. The interviews are posted on the website arabstereotypes.org. But the museum regularly posts other recordings and podcasts on i-tunes & YouTube

Matthew Stiffler is a researcher at the museum.  He says one way to counter Islamaphobia is when people who don’t know Arab Americans or Muslim Americans listen to these recordings. “Listening to stories and having these personal connections is the best way to overcome this sort of bias and bigotry that is rampant right now.”

This summer the museum plans to record Arab American kids talking about how the Arab Spring has affected their lives and their ideas about democracy.

user steveburt1947 / Flickr

Michigan Radio is giving 2011 a sendoff by taking a look back at some of the year's popular and important stories. As part of this retrospective series, here's a small collection of stories we covered about Detroit. You can also weigh in. Tell us your pick for the most important Detroit story this year (if you want to peruse all the stories we've covered in Detroit, you can find them organized under our Detroit tag):

Photo from "All-American Muslim" courtesy of TLC

A network of Arab-American nonprofits say they will no longer accept donations from Lowe's.

The home improvement chain has gotten tons of media attention since it pulled its ads from TLC's All-American Muslim, saying the show was a "lightning rod" for controversy. The retailer was also the recipient of the conservative Florida Family Association's campaign to get the ads pulled.

Now 22 Arab-American nonprofits have refused to accept any future donations from Lowe's.

Hassan Jaber is with ACCESS, a nonprofit based in Dearborn. He says for the past five years the Lowe's in Allen Park donated shovels, paint, tools, and all other kinds of supplies to ACCESS. The items went to support the nonprofit's home renovation program in some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

"Together we gave hope to the community," says Jaber. But he goes on to say that the decision by Lowe's at the corporate level is "a complete contradiction of their local mission here."

Jaber says they will no longer accept those supplies. He adds they considered the Lowe's in Allen Park a "friend and partner," but he says ACCESS "made it clear that we stand by our principal."

State Department

The “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have captured the attention of the whole world. And perhaps nowhere in the U.S. are the events being followed as closely as they are in metropolitan Detroit. The region is home to almost 500,000 Arab-Americans.

Many of those immigrants and their children say so far, the U.S. response to the wave of rebellions has left them hopeful that American foreign policy in the region is headed in the right direction.

“The game is changing”

Inside the Arab American National Museum.
www.accesscommunity.org

A Senior Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union says “fear and fear-mongering” have defined the post-September 11th legal landscape.

Zachary Katznelson participated in a discussion panel on that subject at Wayne State University. He’s a Senior Attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Katznelson says the 9-11 attacks spurred the creation of a vast and secretive security apparatus that infringes on civil liberties.

Jamila Nasser

As the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, a group of Arab American middle school students spent the past year documenting their lives and their community. Their stories are part of a new exhibit at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.