|Imam Sayyad Hassan Al Qazwini of Dearborn's Islamic Center of America shakes hands with Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim as Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako stands in the center.|
Being Chaldean and working as a reporter in Dearborn covering metro Detroit’s Arab and Muslim communities is not easy. It never has been.
Over the years I have experienced backlash from members of my own community for working so closely with Arabs and Muslims.
I started working as a reporter for The Arab American News in 2010 and remember only two months later a friend posted a BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) status, making fun of my job and using the names “Ali” and “Mohammed.” I was once called a “Muslim lover” and ignorant comments about Arabs are constantly made to me including, “how do you work with those crazy Muslims in Dearborn? Don’t you get scared?”
Somebody once made a prank call to me, poking fun at my working for the paper; and a Chaldean man once said it was a shame that I worked for a Muslim.
These experiences reflect the misunderstandings and ignorance some Iraqi Christians share about Muslims and Islam which can no longer be ignored, and have intensified in recent months as a result of the genocide facing Iraqi Christians.
There are more than 6 billion people in the world, more than 1 billion of whom are Muslim. Stepping outside your community and working with and understanding people of different faiths and backgrounds should never be frowned upon.
Despite the fact that Chaldeans who spew hateful rhetoric about Muslims and Arabs and encourage intolerance towards them represent a small minority who do not reflect the community as a whole, many Muslims believe all Chaldeans are racist. We, as Chaldeans, can’t just speak out against hate and discrimination when it happens in our own community. We must do so when such vitriol is directed against others.
I always chose to defend Arabs and Muslims in our region against the misconceptions about them because they are my friends, colleagues and people who treat me well.
The derogatory comments being made about Arabs and Muslims by Chaldeans since the “Islamic State” gained a stronghold in Mosul, Iraq are disturbing, to say the least. These comments do not reflect the Muslims whose stories I’ve told over the years or the faith they follow. These include the eight Arab Americans from Dearborn who have been accepted at Harvard since 2012; the Lebanese engineer from Dearborn Heights who received a patent for his invention of a seat that protects drivers from whiplash injuries; or the Muslim woman who was honored for volunteering to feed Detroit’s homeless community every week outside a church.
Writing this is very tough. There’s nothing I am more proud of than being Chaldean and there’s nothing I’m more passionate about than the plight of Iraqi Christians. Trying to encourage people in my community to stop associating all Muslims with extremists does not mean I am trying to silence the discussion about the challenges and threats my people face.
When all Muslims are blamed for the acts of terrorism being committed in their name innocent lives are lost to senseless hate crimes.
I remember covering the story of the New York man who was waiting to take the subway to work and was pushed in front of it and killed. The woman who murdered him said she pushed him on purpose because she's hated Muslims since 9/11.
The tensions between Arabs and Chaldeans have become too problematic to ignore. In August an incident occurred at a hookah lounge in metro Detroit because of somebody’s faith.
In another incident, a Muslim from Dearborn Heights was recently approached by a Chaldean man who asked if he was from Dearborn. When he said no, the man started talking about how much he hated Arabs from Dearborn. Now many Chaldeans are being encouraged by a small minority of people to boycott Muslim-owned businesses in Dearborn by not spending their money there.
Chaldean boycott of Muslim owned businesses is racist
The ostensible reasons for encouraging this type of boycott is the concern that the money could be used to fund terrorist groups; frustration that Muslims in Dearborn have not been vocal enough about condemning the persecution of Iraqi Christians; and that Chaldeans should support their own businesses before others.
Many Chaldeans have denounced the idea of a boycott and called it racist, saying it singles out an entire community based on the actions of a few.
As a reporter, I have covered similar efforts made by groups to single out the entire Muslim community in Dearborn because of events unfolding overseas and the attacks on 9/11.
These efforts never succeed because local, state and regional leaders, such as congressmen John Dingell and John Conyers, have always come to the defense of Muslims; and Gov. Rick Snyder once defended the Muslim community against the bigotry spewed about it by another republican.
What type of message would a boycott against Muslim-owned businesses in Dearborn send to other communities about Chaldeans?
When you chose to boycott Muslim-owned businesses in Dearborn, you’re boycotting the Dearborn business owner who rented out an entire hotel one winter to house Detroit’s homeless; you’re boycotting the several fruit markets and restaurant owners who have donated food and their time to helping feed the homeless in Detroit.
We have to stop associating all Muslims with extremists
This summer during Ramadan a Chaldean posted a status on Facebook criticizing people in the community for wishing their Muslim friends a Happy Ramadan, because it is an Islamic holiday and Christians were being killed in the name of Islam.
That singles out Muslims worldwide who celebrate Ramadan, including the Egyptian doctor who saved my mother’s life when she had a heart attack; the Muslims who have donated a lot of money to help Iraq’s Christians; the Muslims who volunteered their time every night to feed the homeless during Ramadan by opening up a soup kitchen and the Muslim youth group that every Ramadan collects canned goods, clothing and holds fundraisers for the Salvation Army. Which, for the record, is part of the Universal Christian Church.
That’s right, during the holy month of Ramadan, a Muslim youth group works to help a Christian religious organization.
Last week a Chaldean posted a status on Facebook suggesting that Sunni Muslims change their religion to either Christianity and Buddhism because of the actions of Sunni Islamic terrorists. A few frustrated Sunni Muslims responded, defending their religion and disassociating themselves from the extremists.
Yes, Sunni Iraqis turned on their Christian neighbors in that country and looted their homes after they fled Mosul; but not all Sunnis should be held responsible for these actions including the former head of the Dearborn based Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC-MI) who stood up for two Chaldean men accused of racism during an incident that occurred in West Bloomfield when they had no civil rights leader in their own community to defend them.
|Local Chaldean and Muslim religous leaders attend a reception held by the Consul General of Iraq in Detroit on June 15 at Recency Manor in Southfield for Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako.|
Arabs and Chaldeans face parallel challenges
For decades, both Chaldean and Arab small business owners in metro Detroit have been gunned down and killed while trying to make a living at their small family businesses. We have all lost our cousins, friends, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers to senseless acts of violence.
We Chaldeans have endured hate crimes for the simple fact that we look Arab. Chaldeans are not Arabs. We are the indigenous people of Iraq and we speak and write Aramaic, the language of Christ. But the fact is we’re still Iraqi.
If somebody hates Arab Muslims and wants to discriminate against them they have no way of telling that a Chaldean is an Iraqi Christian.
I once interviewed a Muslim woman who was stopped in traffic by a man who pointed a gun at her and told her to go back to her country. I’ll never forget the sound of her voice as she related that experience.
This summer a young Chaldean man was stopped in traffic and called a “sand ni…..” by a woman who kicked his car and told him to go back to his country. She said she would take a gun out and shoot him and that it would be okay with the police.
The truth is that Chaldeans and Arabs all pay a heavy price for the actions of extremists who are destroying their homelands.
I can’t count the number of lawsuits Muslims have filed alleging workplace discrimination, but the saddest story I covered was the case involving Mazen Barash, a Chaldean American from Farmington Hills. As a SMART bus mechanic Barash faced discrimination after 9/11 that escalated following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Chaldeans and Muslims have both witnessed our places of worship get vandalized. In 2012 the words “ur dead” were spray painted outside the St. George Chaldean Catholic Church. The priest at the church said the community had nothing to do with events unfolding overseas. Local Muslim religious leaders have also given the same response to vandalism committed at their places of worship.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said the situation in Iraq is dire not only for Christians, but for all ethnic groups, including Muslims.
Do you get it? By working together, we can fight these challenges more effectively.
Why I am so passionate about defending Muslims
I have covered heartbreaking stories about the challenges American Muslims face. You will never know how great and devastating their struggle is unless you witness it first-hand every day, like I do. Their stories have left me frustrated and angry. And yes, sometimes they made me cry.
I remember the Muslim woman I wrote about recently who was grabbed by her Islamic garments and pulled to the ground in front of her child. She was hospitalized as a result.
I will never forget Arab father who lives in Detroit and was severely beaten by his neighbors in front of his children in his own home. He was still crippled from the incident that happened years before when I interviewed him.
It hurts watching good people struggling to constantly prove they are not associated with terrorists and just typical Americans.
Muslims have not been silent about condemning terrorism and defending their faith
Muslims have held several protests in Dearborn condemning the “Islamic State”, but not all of them got the attention they deserved, including the rally I covered in Dearborn that was organized by Muslims in support of the plight of Iraqi Christians and held at the Lebanese American Heritage Club.
Many people seem to think the first time Muslims ever stepped up to disassociate themselves and condemn these groups was at these rallies, but that’s not true.
For as long as I have covered the metro Detroit area, local religious and community leaders; Arab and Islamic organizations and Muslim student groups have made repeated efforts to denounce terrorism and disassociate themselves from the extremists. Could Muslims have come out in larger numbers to defend their faith against ISIS? Arguably, yes. At the same time, many Muslims feel they don’t have to be apologetic for something they have nothing to do with, or the acts of terrorism they don’t condone.
Chaldeans who stood up for unity between Muslims and Christians
Jack Seman, a member of the Chaldean community, used to participate in many interfaith and weekly religious services at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. When he passed away, Imam Elahi of the IHW addressed Seman’s family and friends at a funeral service for the peace activist.
Seman’s family participated in an interfaith gathering at the IHW after his passing and expressed great appreciation to members of the Muslim community for the support and solidarity they showed.
When Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel Delly passed away, it was loss for all Iraqi Christians and for Muslims. After the invasion of Iraq, he had tried to reach out to Muslims and followers of other faiths to promote unity. Local Iraqi Muslim religious leaders attended a funeral service for Delly at the Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield.
In August about 20 young Chaldeans held a unity rally in Detroit to bring together Iraqis of all religious sects. During the rally, one Chaldean said Muslim extremists do not represent the attitudes and religious sentiments of mainstream Islam and that they have “hijacked the “great Abrahamic faith.”
When attorney Ashley Mammo passed away in July, it was also a loss to both the Chaldean and Arab communities. She was a former member of the ADC-MI national board and worked closely with the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity. One of her close friends I interviewed said that what was so beautiful about her was she never saw a difference between Chaldeans and Arabs or their respective religions.
The head of the American Middle East Christians Congress has also organized interfaith events that included Muslims.
I remember interviewing a prominent community leader about how Arab Americans came to hold powerful positions in leadership and politics. He told me that the key for any community to advance was to create bridges with other communities.
The largest concentration of Chaldeans in the country can’t afford to distance itself from the largest population of Muslims in the country for this very reason.
I am standing up against hate; can you do any less?
You can contact Natasha Dado by emailing email@example.com