This past weekend, I was volunteering at the Arab American Institute table at the Arab Festival with some friends and there was an older white man carrying a video camera perusing the artisan tent. Strange white man then conveniently stationed himself in front of our table. He walked up closer, videocam still in hand, asking us about the organization, and then probing my friend about her opinions on the Middle East, whether Israel should be a Jewish state, etc. Hilary handled his questions well and wouldn’t entertain his baiting, then he just walked away. When he made his lap around the tent presumably baiting Arabs, Muslims, and allies, he returned to our table and Hilary asked him for a business card. Given the intensely politicized atmosphere at this year’s festival, we were not surprised to see that he was from the [esteemed] organization The United West: Uniting the West to Defeat Shariah Islam. They were not alone in their invasion of the Arab Festival, a much-anticipated annual community event where taking your younger cousins to get faces painted and enjoy carnival rides is a convenient excuse to hang out with friends and check out cute love prospects. Right-wing crazies littered the festival, harassing festival attendees of all ages and creeds, and you can find the YouTube videos to prove it. This is not just an instance of Islamophobia or just a result of the events of 9/11/2001; this is corporate sponsored racism and white-supremacy, made possible by a Patriot-Acting government that is active and complicit in the oppression of browner people and in the proliferation of misinformation and racism. The current political arena in the US is more a circus than anything serious and it is laughable that Newt Gingrich et. al. have built actual political platforms founded on racism and anti-Sharia Law [for more info on Sharia Law and Dearborn, I defer to Dearborn natives Ed and Moe]. This is scary, and a given. But what is really destructive is that in the videos of the Arab Festival, there are children under the age of 12 being harassed and berated by older men; these children are being told, with no reservations, that they are hated and that their entire identity is worthless. Like most immigrants, they are living in a country where they are considered ungrateful and unwanted guests — but most of these kids are not guests, they are citizens, born and raised on “American” soil. Ten year olds should not know who Terry Jones is and ten year olds should never have to be in shouting matches with older men holding signs larger than the children themselves. But this is the America we live in. And while Dearborn has been a longtime home and space of comfort for Arabs and Arab-Americans, a place where they have the unbarred freedom to express themselves in speech, action, and religion without feeling the need to assimilate or hide aspects of their culture and identities. But the recent years have brought an uninvited spotlight on Dearborn, made it a freak show for right-wing Zionut crazies like Debbie Schlussel and the sort, and for Dearborn youth, a heightened awareness that they are being monitored — or more specifically, their Arab-ness and Muslim-ness is being monitored with a suspicious eye. And they are guilty until proven innocent, as anyone can obviously glean from the witch hunt trials pushed forth by Representative King.
Here, on the “Muslims Gone Wild” article from The United West’s coverage of “Shariafest” (which is hilarious, and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce should seriously consider the name change as they host next year’s fest), the vice president of the organization indirectly mourns the loss of Dearborn’s “racial purity” – a comment that betrays the synonymy of white-supremacy and Islamophobia.
Here’s another video documenting a heated interaction between right wing anti-Islam protesters and festival attendees: