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

22 May 2013 General 55 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
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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55 Comments »

  1. I would be angry if I took my kid to have a fun day and saw someone waving a pig’s head around. That’s just disgusting. And that attorney so worried about Christian rights, upset that it was cancelled? Maybe they can find something more useful to do with their pig heads than scaring children. Maybe they can go hang out with Westboro Baptist Church. Every time I think my opinion of humanity can’t drop any lower…

  2. Will we hear the media condemning ‘Christian fundamentalists’ for this? Will we hear them asking ‘why don’t so-called moderate Christians condemn the extremists?’ Will we hear of states passing anti-Mosaic Law legislation?

  3. This saddens and angers me, and I am a Christian Episcopalian. That people can be so small-minded…these extremists do not represent the God I believe in.

  4. very sad :(

  5. Terrible!

  6. @haseena
    Do you know asia bibi?

  7. Because one operative with a bomb has more power than 10 million normal people.

  8. Brushing the dirt under carpet can never clean the house.

  9. Sad part is, these extremists taunting Muslims with a pig’s head would also offend Jews (who also don’t eat swine) and other ACTUAL Christians who are embarrassed by their actions! :/

  10. What?

  11. This is an Arab; not a Muslim festival. Don’t they realize there are non-Muslim Arabs?

  12. For some reason, everything has to be politicized.

  13. This reminds me of the people who say- don’t wish marry Christmas, don’t wish happy new year and don’t eat any thing offered by Hindus who are filthy idolatrs.

  14. How heart breaking!!! Yes there are Arabs that are not Muslim, but their is One God, for the three religions!

  15. “These tensions are artificial. They were created from fear mongers, from bigots, from extremists, from people who are not sincere when they speak.” lollollol And not two hours after you make that claim, we see in England how artificial the threat is: http://news.sky.com/story/1094380/woolwich-soldier-dead-after-terror-attack

  16. Yes, there are people who think all Arabs are Muslims and vice versa. There are also Americans who cannot find Canada, Mexico, or Washington, DC, on a map or tell you what 10% of $5 is. It’s too bad that the people didn’t go ahead in spite of the official cancellation.

  17. 60% of Arab Americans are Christian

  18. I know. What percentage of Arabs in Arab countries are Christians?

  19. If anything, this is the perfect reason to not cancel the festival. Show that people can celebrate with one another in peace and harmony no matter how rough things are in the world. Do not let fear mongering and terrorism of any sort disrupt the lives of those willing to live out in the open and without fear.

  20. When will Islam speak out against terroristic acts perpetuated by those claiming to be Muslim?

  21. Yet all Christians are condemned by the actions of the westboro church, even though Christians speak condemn those actions.

  22. Where is a post about the 2 Coptic Christians that were beheaded by Muslims in NJ?

  23. Where Christians/right wing bigots when 300,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by gorge bush’s christian army? where right wing christian neanderthals to condemn Jews for killing tens of thousands of Palestinians civilians going back to 1948? oh that’s right Protestants( fake Christians) were too bust giving money and arms to Zionist terrorist from Poland, Germany, Russia and Brooklyn.

  24. What a shame!

  25. So your saying the military is all Christians? And our government has given money to Arab countries also, so your argument is invalid. Was the guy who committed the ft. Hood shootings a Christian? If all Christians are going to be measured by the actions of a few westboro church members then it’s fair to judge all muslims by the actions of a few Muslim extremist. You can’t have it both ways.

  26. There’s the christian right ruining the fun again…

  27. I’ve only met kind Muslims so who knows? They certainly do cook good foods, however.

  28. I agree with Sam!

  29. Billy if you are a “Christian”, do you feel the need to speak out every time a fellow Christian kills someone? Why should Muslims have to speak out every time some crazy person professing to be a Muslim commits a terrorist act? Do you speak out when “Christian” US soldiers commit masacres in Afghanistan against women and children? So called Christian Americans kill more Americans everyday in this country than Muslims kill Americans. And an FYI, so called “Muslim terrorists” have killed more Muslims than non Muslims.

  30. Sure I will always condemn murder no matter the perpetrators.

  31. So called christian us soldiers, right? Why do you assume all military are Christians?

  32. This is a real shame. We had so much fun at this festival. A wonderful event for families. These Christian extremists are the axis of evil.

  33. yes the vast majority of soldiers in the u.s military are racist right wing red neck Christians, some are poor uneducated Latinos and blacks and that can not find find jobs or have anything going on in their lives so they join the military out of desperation. Bush said jesus told him to invade Iraq, Christians send billions annually to israel which it makes it possible for that terrorist state to kill and steal land.

  34. Such ignorance and hate in the world. This disgusts me on so many levels. Somewhere along the line these people equated Arab and being Muslim. Truth be told, there are large numbers of Christian Arabs. In fact, i believe Most Muslims in the world are south Asians. Anyway, regardless of ethnicity, ALL Americans have the right to have family friendly festivals to celebrate our ancestry and diversity as a country. I am with Patricia…these right wing extremists are the axis of evil.

  35. Extremist on every level hurt people and societies in so many ways, what a shame

  36. good lord, the haters are morons

  37. There are many Christians in the Middle East–living amoungst the Muslims who are in fact radical and who adhere to a strict way of life—and Christians ARE persecuted daily. Want those facts?

  38. I’d find it interesting.

  39. I’m aware of how Jews are treated in muslim countries.

  40. Sam–your statement above is filled with lies. Bush did not say that nor did he experience such a thing. Further more–isn’t it Mohammad who flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem?

  41. Shani–If I am not mistaken, which I am not—Christians are persecuted WAY more in Middle East countries where Muslims or Islam is dominate. Want proof? Holla!

  42. Not many jews are living in muslim countries anyway.

  43. Most were thrown out or killed, true.

  44. What a crock of crap. Just ask any non-Muslim living in a Muslim country about fear and hate. My friend had to move from Pakistan because of persecution from the Muslim majority.

  45. Canceling it is a mistake.

  46. When white people are expected to apologize and speak out against every crime committed by white men.

  47. I hope someday it will return, when nuts like Terry Jones are gone.

  48. Nor do extremists Muslims represent the God that I believe in. None of the ( Christian and Muslims) extremists believe in coexistence which is what I believe in.

  49. Jews & Christians lived peacefully under Muslim rule until the lovely white Christians of Western Europe came & killed a great deal of them! When Jerusalem was under Muslim rule, there was PEACE, but some people, due to their bigotry, refuse to accept the cause of all this strife. Sorry, but western Europeans, especially England is at the root of MOST world problems & blood shed. Yet, most will continue to deny historical facts due to, again, BIGOTRY.

  50. Kind of like Palestinians are still being thrown out & killed?

  51. Yes, because it is publicized then it must be the only ones who do this. What about prior to that attack when white supremacists killed an old Muslim man in England? Who cares right? You people certainly have double standards.

  52. Radical right organizations are watched extremely carefully, and rightly so. But let’s say, just for a moment, that 9 times out of 10, if there were a horrible terrorist attack in Britain, it was perpetrated by Nazis from Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia. Let’s just pretend that was the overwhelming source of violent attacks. Wouldn’t it make sense to screen potential immigrants from those countries a little more carefully? Moreover, wouldn’t it make sense to deport those inciting hatred? Nobody said “only ones,” that’s a transparent strawman. However, the numbers are awfully disproportionate, to put it mildly.

  53. Jews and Christians lived peacefully under Muslim rule, as second class citizens with few rights and constant humiliation. Pogroms weren’t uncommon, and religious freedom was severely curtailed. I’ve got ancestors who lived as dhimmis, not all that long ago in North Africa.

  54. Rosen , look at EDL in UK as an example ! forgot about the spanish insquestions and the cruscades or the holocost made by westerners ?! stop persecuting muslims in the west and call them terrorists and stop killing muslims and others in these tragedies :

    Iriish civil war – 2 nucllear bombs – usa invading vietnam ,yemen , pakistan , iraq and afghanistan – killing natives australians and americans – killing black people in usa – invading Chechnya – invading afghanistan by russia – UK then israel invading egypt – UK invading india- holocost – dark ages – cruscades – Viking – spanish insquetions – invasion of algeria by france !

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