In praise of Dearborn

Today is Good Friday, and Pastor Terry Jones is “honoring” the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by trying to stage a hate rally in front of the Islamic Center of America.

The episode is pretty disgusting, but for me it has also highlighted two mostly positive things:

1.  Dearborn as a — yes, I’ll say it — Mecca for Arab & Muslim Americans.   But it remains the capital of Muslim & Arab America, a haven for an ethnicity and religion that is still regarded with fear and panic in many other places across the country.  We benefit from this in many ways:  our children learn not to point and stare when they see a woman in hijab; they are able to learn Arabic in their schools, which will help them gain a future competitive edge in the workforce; stabilization, even growth, of population in inner-ring suburbs like Hamtramck and Dearborn;  and, not least, we have a seemingly endless choice of amazing, high-quality, affordable, and generally healthy Middle Eastern restaurants.

2.  The hate isn’t coming from one of our own.  As I noted, Rev. Jones is coming all the way from Florida.  There still is animosity and tension between the Arab-American community, as well as non-Arab Muslims, and other metro Detroiters.  There have also been notorious conflicts with, and alleged harassment from, federal agencies, including the FBI, immigration, and other authorities.  But our local leaders have made emphatically clear that hate-mongering and racism against the community is not acceptable.  It’s an especially remarkable turnaround for Dearborn, which was infamous for its openly racist mayor Orville Hubbard for much of the twentieth century.   (Though I’m not sure what to make of current Mayor Jack O’Reilly’s open letter to Rev. Jones in which he takes pains to refute the urban legend that Dearborn is under sharia law.  Personally, I’m kind of amused by the rumor.)

Again, I don’t want to make it sound like everything is coming up roses.  But I am proud of what Dearborn, and Arab greater Detroit, represent, which is the pluralism of metro Detroit.  Contrary to what Lou Dobbs would have you believe, immigration-friendliness is highly correlated with a host of economic benefits.  The degree to which people in our region accommodate immigrants, instead of passing discriminatory laws against them, will help determine how quickly we can A) grow our population and B) return to economic health.  As native-born Americans continue to migrate primarily to southern and western parts of the U.S., increasing immigration into our region is the only way our population stands any chance of rebounding, and they are disproportionately represented in the ranks of entrepreneurs.

So regardless of what transpires with Rev. Jones, let’s take it as an opportunity to reflect on, and to appreciate, the unique contributions of our Arab- and Muslim-American community to greater Detroit.  In fact, here’s an especially tasty way to do it.


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