The Arab International Festival event has been a staple in Dearborn for years. Now, after a few years of radical Christian extremists demonstrating and causing a ruckus, the festival is now gone.
We all remember Terry Jones, the Bible-loving, Quran-burning, Florida pastor who has made Dearborn a frequent stop on his hate tours. Well, he has influenced many to come to the Arab Festival in the past few years. They have demonstrated, chanted, and decried the “Islamic takeover” of Dearborn. Last year, they even brought a severed pig’s head to their festivities. I never really understood that. Muslims sees pigs as unholy, so desecrating a pig wouldn’t really upset them. If you really want to upset Arabs and Muslims, you don’t desecrate a pig. You desecrate something they consider holy, like a pack of Marlboros, or a pair of Guess jeans, or a poster of Pamela Anderson. You don’t burn a Quran, you burn a brand new BMW. That would really make us cry.
Well, in 2010, the city of Dearborn wrongly (and stupidly) arrested a group of these protestors for disturbing the peace, a charge of which they were acquitted. They later won a settlement from the City of Dearborn for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The mayor of the City of Dearborn, Jack O’Reilly, instead of standing up to these idiots and supporting his Arab constituency, informed the Arab American Chamber of Commerce (the organizers of the Festival) that they would not be receiving a permit to hold their conference as planned this year. He required them to move the Festival from its traditional home on Warren Ave (the main Arab-American corridor) to a public, fenced park. This move would have defeated the purpose of the event, which is to highlight Arab-American owned businesses, which are primarily located in East Dearborn on Warren, an area that Arab-American business owners transformed from a ghost town into a thriving commercial district.
Now it is no surprise that our spineless mayor would attempt to take this route. He simply wanted to avoid his making any more stupid mistakes, a practice which he has perfected. But what most upset me is how our leaders simply stood back and took it.
And therein lies the real problem. Our leaders believe it is more important to stay in the good graces of a mayor who clearly does not have our interests at heart. We are not comfortable enough in our own skin to stand up when necessary. Go to the office of any Arab-American “leader” and you will find pictures of him shaking hands with politicians, most who have not helped us at all. I would rather see pictures of all the politicians who we forced out of office for not protecting our interests.
Our leadership still believes that success comes from buddying up to politicians instead of making them buddy up to us. In other words, we still define our power in terms of how politicians view us instead of making politicians define their power in terms of how we view them.
If we Arab-Americans want to show our political power, we should do everything we can to ensure that a mayor like Jack O’Reilly does not get to keep his job. Instead, we show him that he can basically do whatever he likes, as long as he poses for a photo with us every now and then.
Less than two weeks ago, ADC-Michigan regional director Imad Hamad was suspended after accusations of sexual harassment over a period of 14 years came to light. I personally know and admire both of the women, Rashida Tlaib and Rana Abbas, who have openly accused Mr. Hamad in the press. I have also known of their accusations privately for years. And I said nothing.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Hamad’s employer, has told us all that it will be hiring a third-party to conduct an “independent investigation.” I am not quite sure what this investigation is supposed to provide.
ADC is the largest grassroots Arab-American organization. It is dedicated to civil rights. It actually has a long history of developing young Arab-Americans into vibrant leaders. Tlaib worked as an intern at the ADC office under Hamad in 1999. She went on to law school, community activism, and is now serving her third term as a wildly popular representative in the Michigan House of Representatives. Abbas worked as Hamad’s deputy for eight years before moving on to management positions at Global Linguist Solutions, the main provider of linguistic support to the U.S. military in Iraq. She was also the Executive Director of the Arab-American Civil Rights League.
Man, that is some bad luck for Hamad. If you’re going to sexually harass someone, you should really pick the quiet ones. Don’t pick the ones that are going to become congresswomen and defense contractors. They’re talkative.
Tlaib and Abbas are accomplished, intelligent, and charismatic. They were attracted to ADC because of its mission and reputation. You might think that ADC would be proud to call them part of the family. Instead, ADC’s Board of Directors is dragging its feet and prolonging their ordeal. To make things worse, ADC’s leadership has known of Hamad’s “bad habits” for years and done nothing. It looks like it’s going to take two strong Arab-American women to make them act right.
Rana and Rashida knew how to speak the truth. My leaders could learn a thing or two from them.