They defeated us. In 2010, bigots came to our city to flaunt their racism at the Arab International Festival and ended up taking $300,000 of our tax money after suing the city for wrongful arrest. Hateful protesters kept coming back in the following two years, which proved to be the last for the festival.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce, which organized the festival, announced in 2013 that the yearly event would be "postponed." Rising insurance costs, the city's lack of enthusiasm for the festival and failed plans to move it from Warren Avenue to a park were the understood reasons behind canceling the event.
The extremists shut down our festival and made money at it. All the reasons for canceling the festival are connected to the bigots' demonstrations and lawsuits against Dearborn and Wayne County in previous years. In 2012, the Wayne County Sheriff's office was tasked with protecting the event, which was a sign of Dearborn's dwindling fondness for the festival. Sheriff’s deputies asked protesters— who were holding a pig's head on a stick and shouting anti-Islamic slogans— to leave the event after offended residents started throwing bottles at them. The bigots sued the county, but a federal judge threw out the case, which was also struck down by the Court of Appeals before the same court decided to reconsider it this year.
Last year, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce again called off the festival. The chamber's executive director, Fay Beydoun, told The Arab American News at the time that the organization is working on ideas for events to involve the community.
Summer is fast approaching and we have not heard word one about events on the scale of the festival.
Begun in 1995, the festival was an annual tradition that brought thousands of people to Dearborn. It should not have been cancelled. Despite concerns about overcrowding and littering, the festival was a window into our community. It provided our fellow Americans with an opportunity to explore our rich culture— food, music, and love for life.
Now that window is closed, even though we need it more than ever before. Stereotypes and misconceptions about Arab and Muslim Americans— particularly those in Dearborn— are growing. The rise of ISIS in the Middle East is contributing to the spread of Islamophobia in the United States. Last year, a leaked federal report falsely claimed that Dearborn has the second highest percentage of suspected terrorists in the country. The local media are obsessed with an ISIS-supporting cleric who lives in Dearborn and has legal issues over a fraud conviction.
The festival would have been a positive statement in the face of all this negativity. Its demise is a loss to the community and everybody in Metro Detroit.
Dearborn police should not have arrested bigots for protesting; the city should not have settled the case for a massive amount of money; in 2013, community members should not have thrown bottles at the protesters; and the chamber of commerce should have put more effort into preserving the festival.
Our community organizations should work together to hold events that would engage our surrounding and promote our culture.