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Arab International Festival in Dearborn is Canceled in Wake of Aggressive Christian Missionary Activities

Ahmad Wahab of Dearborn, from left, rides the 1001 Nachts with his cousin Nermen Wahab and his sister Aya Wahab during the festival last June in Dearborn. / MANDI WRIGHT/Detroit Free Press

Ahmad Wahab of Dearborn, from left, rides the 1001 Nachts with his cousin Nermen Wahab and his sister Aya Wahab during the festival last June in Dearborn. / MANDI WRIGHT/Detroit Free Press

Arab International Festival in Dearborn is canceled in wake of religious tensions

By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

After growing religious tensions between some Christian missionaries and local Muslims, the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn has been canceled for this year, organizers said Friday.

The announcement left many disappointed that a small number of aggressive extremists could ruin what had become a tradition in the eastern section of Dearborn, which has a significant number of Arab Americans.

The city and organizers were facing increased insurance and liability costs because of the tensions and lawsuits over the festival. Last month, the City of Dearborn had proposed moving the festival to a park instead of the traditional location on Warren Avenue in order to decrease conflict.

But Fay Baydoun, director of the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that it would have been impossible to organize a successful event in time at the new location. Baydoun said she hopes that next year’s festival will “come back better and stronger.”

The decision to cancel the festival comes after four years of tensions at the event between some Christian missionaries and local Muslims. Their encounters resulted in heated arguments, scuffles, some bottle-throwing and several lawsuits. A federal judge in Detroit last week threw out one of those lawsuits.

Last year, one group of Christian missionaries brought a pig’s head and signs insulting Islam’s prophet, which drew a strong reaction from some children. Earlier this month, the City of Dearborn apologized and paid an undisclosed amount of money to a group of Christian missionaries arrested in 2010 at the festival for disturbing the peace. They were later acquitted.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr. did not return a call seeking comment Friday, but in a news release from the chamber, he is quoted as saying of the festival: “We look forward to its continued success promoting business that help drive the city’s economy and that make the community a cultural destination for visitors.”

Local Arab Americans were upset over the cancellation of the festival because the original intent of it was to highlight Arab-American businesses, which helped turn east Dearborn from a ghost town into a thriving commercial destination, said local leaders.

“It’s unfortunate there are groups who are seeking to create problems and incite people in a community where people are trying to build bridges of diversity,” said Suehaila Amen, 34, of Dearborn. “This festival was about creating a family atmosphere during Father’s Day weekend. And yet, there are those who do not wish to see people enjoy their life.”

Many Arab Americans from across the country attend the festival, Amen said.

Dearborn resident Majed Moughni also said he was disappointed in the cancellation, but added that he understands the decision, given the high insurance and logistical costs for what became an increasingly tense event.

“It’s not worth the cost,” he said.

In an attempt to create a more peaceful atmosphere, O’Reilly moved the location of the festival to Ford Woods Park. His plan would have allowed the festival to be in an enclosed area and would have required an admission fee.

But Baydoun said: “With the move to a new location, Ford Woods Park, we needed more time to ensure we provide a quality event that the community has come to expect from us.”

Over the years, the festival has attracted big donors, from Detroit automakers to the CIA.

There was concern that this year’s festival could become even more tense.

Quran-burning Pastor Terry Jones said he was planning to attend the first day along with the California man who brought the pig’s head last year. In 2011, Jones attempted to attend the festival, but was met by angry protesters who tried to block him as he walked. Police then asked him to not attend.

The decision to cancel the festival illustrates some tensions between its Arab-American organizers and Dearborn officials. O’Reilly has been pushing to move the festival for three years, but the Chamber of Commerce resisted because the purpose of the festival was to promote Arab-American businesses along Warren.

Earlier this year, the city indicated it would not be giving permits for the Warren Avenue location and asked the chamber to consider having the festival in the park.

Baydoun said her group respects free speech.

“We have no intention of preventing anyone from freedom of speech,” she said. “We just wanted a family-friendly environment.”

Since she was a teenager, Amen has looked forward to enjoying the festival. It was a time to reconnect with friends and family in a relaxed atmosphere of games and booths that celebrated diversity.

But now, “it’s gotten to the point where people don’t even want to take their children to the festival because they don’t want them to be exposed to these bigoted messages and hateful speech,” Amen said.

Some conservatives say the incidents at the festival happened because the city is under the influence of Shari’a, Islamic law, a claim O’Reilly has repeatedly dismissed as absurd.

Robert Muise, an Ann Arbor attorney who represents the California-based Bible Believers — the Christian group that brought a pig’s head and anti-Islam signs last year to the festival — said the cancellation of the festival was “disappointing.”

“However,” he added, “had the Christians’ rights been protected from the beginning, I doubt we would be at this point.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792

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  • golden izanagi

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  • Talking_fish_head

    They wont be happy until all arabs and muslims are in gas chambers and concentration camps

  • Solid Snake

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  • golden izanagi

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  • Solid Snake

    Hmm, I didnt hear anything about this until a friend told me. Even though I have never attended, I still feel sorry for the people that do.

    Just a point about Dearborn from a resident,

    As you might know the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East is in Dearborn. To some (maybe many?) that means ‘Muslim population’. In fact that is far from the truth, I haven’t checked the figures but I am pretty sure Arab Christians are the majority of the Arab population in the US and I think it applies to the population in Dearborn also.

    Just to give you a general sense of the population layout of Dearborn,

    The South of Dearborn borders on the Mexican Town part of Detroit, it is called the ‘Southend’ and the majority is comprised of Yemeni Sunni Muslims with a mix of other sects.

    The East end of Dearborn, used when referring to areas around Michigan Avenue and Ford road is comprised of mostly Lebanese, Palestinians, and a few other nationalities. here it is a mix of Shia and Sunni Muslims.

    Downtown Dearborn is what it sounds like, downtown. Car dealerships, strip malls, places to eat, etc etc. The majority seems to be white and Christian although I dont know the denominations. This side borders with Dearborn Heights. Its a more high income area.

    Then you have the Warren Ave. area where the festival usually takes place. TONS of businesses, a bakery on every corner, small shops each catering to a specific consumer, pizza places by the dozen, shawarma places, beauty salons, etc etc. From my experience many Lebanese and Iraqi residents live here. Majority Shia.

    Arab Christians live everywhere. The reason I cant place them in a specific part of Dearborn is they tend to be less ‘visible’ than Muslim Arabs. Generally though you can find them in the more affleunt North or Downtown area of Dearborn and the Eastend. But they live everywhere peacefully with everyone else.

    Keep in mind this is my own experience so I apologize if someone from Dearborn thinks I am generalizing them,

    As for the kids who were throwing things at the agitators. Here is the thing about Dearborn, it is often called Michigans Jersey Shore by the people who live here. Tanned, spiked haired guys wearing shirts two sizes too small driving an $80,000 car while attending Henry Ford Community College is a common sight in Dearborn. The overuse of makeup, especially eyeliner, and tans are also common with the females. Even the behavior is the same. Tough guys everywhere. So does it sound like I am generalizing? I am but believe me these are the types that stand out. I am not saying it is good or bad.

    My point is that the kids “defending their religion” by throwing things and getting into fights barely know how to pray. They are just regular teenagers, not some trained secret agents sent to destroy Freedom. These guys have far more urgent matters to deal with, like getting a haircut and buying 10x Hold hair gel, using their financial aid refund to purchase high end car rims, or hanging out the local Hookah place. The above paired with the fact that many young people are second, third, even fourth and beyond generation Muslims who have no idea what they are doing makes it worse. They just feel compelled to aggressively defend their identity as a Muslim Arab.

    So, when God fearing American citizens see an unstoppable evil force taking over their freedoms and stamping out the freedom of speech in a fiery, bloody hail of mountain dew cans and foam cups, I see a bunch of hot headed Dearborn kids who, on any given Sunday, can be seen fighting over the score of a street basketball game.

    So, No this isnt Dearbornistan, people here are not undercover Jihadis, and there is no Shariah, just some tasty tasty meat shawarma with a side of garlic sauce, pita bread, hummus, and pickled turnips. You are welcome to visit……(evil smile)

    some parts are supposed to be humorous and should not be taken seriously 😀

    As a reward for reading this…here is a new game trailer, Guilty Gear Xrd

  • Heinz Catsup

    Here’s hoping the Islamo/arabophobes are happy. They got what they wanted.

  • Heinz Catsup

    lol

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    I agree, except knowing how these things work out, the city would probably sue them or fine them for not having a permit, or some such crap. It infuriates me, but people like Fred Phelps and Terry Jones know how to play the law better than the common man, and can ruin the fun for everybody else…

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    They’re not Dearborn Christians; they are Christian fundies from out of town. Terry Jones is from Florida, and the morons who brought pigs heads were from California (go fig). That explains part of why they are so willing to disrupt the community. Its not really about converting anyone… I mean, seriously, do you expect brandishing a pig’s head at children is going to make them become Christian? I certainly don’t recall anything like that in the Gospels. No, its about getting famous. That’s why Terry Jones has a PR guy, that’s why he goes to big events where there will be lots of people.

    I can’t speak for there community, but it seems to me that most Dearborn Christians – whether Arab or non-Arab – never seemed to have a problem with the festival before. Only now that right wing bigots have made it into an issue do we have these people descending on the event and trying to cause trouble.

    Incidentally, I feel obliged to point out that this sort of race baiting is a familiar tactic for anyone who has had to deal with white supremacists. One of their favorite things is to go into a mixed community, one where there might already be tensions, and stir up trouble. Then, if blacks or Latinos or Asians do anything in response, the white supremacists can play the part of the “innocent victim” all while claiming that all the violence originates from minorities. Plus they can sue the city (which, unsurprisingly, our Christian “friends” seem to be doing).

  • Tanveer Khan

    Indeed. There is no excuse to be an idiot in this world. When you (anyone) are an idiot, its because you choose to be.

  • Seeker

    Also, that is not the slugs. It’s the amoeba. I think slugs are a little more complicated than that.

  • Talking_fish_head

    we can call it “Thinking Jihad”

  • Talking_fish_head

    hey, thats an insult to slugs everywere ;P

  • mindy1

    Hmmm, let’s make them think to death 😉

  • mindy1

    because they are like slugs, with barely the most primative functions just to cover eating and breathing 😛

  • Al

    Somewhat odd behavoiur from certain Dearborn Christians considering that 60% of “Arab-Americans” are Christians.

  • Talking_fish_head

    yeah your right, if they did use their single brain cell then the loons would not exist

  • Tanveer Khan

    Too much work.

  • Talking_fish_head

    do these idiots relies that the majority of Arabs who attend the festival are Arab christian ?
    why dont they try using their single brain cell to think, or is that too much work

  • Good idea.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Even if one agreed with the protesters (and I do not), and even if what they did was legal, it is shameful that they managed to cause the cancellation of an event that people wanted to enjoy and participate in.

    If they just wanted to get their message out, the protesters could have organized their own event and left the Festival alone. The fact that they chose instead to essentially be so disruptive as to prevent the Festival from continuing says a lot about their lack of class and common decency. It makes me even more sympathetic to those who were involved in the Festival — it is truly a shame when a group cannot even enjoy a simple event without the hatemongers swooping in.

  • mindy1

    They should have a mini festival anyway, to show that they have the same rights as anyone 😉

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