DEARBORN — At its third annual “Empowering the Youth” dinner held March 21, the Arab Student Union of the University of Michigan-Dearborn gathered hundreds in Dearborn to celebrate the group’s efforts at raising awareness of Arab American identity and activism.
The group honored scholars Dr. Hashim Al-Tawil and Dr. Jack Shaheen at the Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn. Parents, government officials and leaders from Arab American businesses and non-profits came together to encourage the dynamic youth group.
ASU stages frequent protests against the Iraq war and Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and organizes lectures, picnics, and other projects primarily in the Dearborn community.
|Media Scholar Jack Shaheen|
Al-Tawil is an art professor at the Henry Ford Community College known for speaking out against the cultural destruction of Iraq since the invasion.
He frequently speaks, writes and creates art lamenting the loss of ancient, priceless historical artifacts, as well as ethnic and religious harmony in Iraq since March of 2003.
Shaheen keynoted the event.
“I don’t think I need to empower this youth,” he said. “I think the young people who are here, given your actions and what you’ve done and will continue to do, are already empowered.”
He spoke about the hope that the energy of young Arab Americans creates, but pessimistically cited the lack of Arab American voices in mainstream media.
“We are not known in the media,” he said.
“I mean look at all the talk shows. Are there any articulate American Arabs or American Muslims? You go to the cinema — where are we? We are basically invisible. Our invisibility helps bring about the stereotype.”
He cited several specific, intensely offensive moments for Arabs and Muslims in the media, like when radio personalities on the once-popular Don Imus Show referred to Palestinians in 2004 as “stinking animals,” who should all be killed.
“No one did anything… No one went after NBC… No one called for Imus to step down… It’s time we stood up and didn’t take it anymore! When they say ‘Islamic terrorist,’ then we have to write a letter to the editor or we have to meet with the editor and say ‘Why don’t you call those guys who kill people in the mall Christian assassins?
What’s this business of saying ‘Islamic’ before ‘terrorist?’
“We have to take a stand and contest these stereotypes. And the people that will do it will be the young people.”
Shaheen gave an example of passionate expression of defiant pride coming from youth, citing Lebanese Colombian pop star Shakira, who was once asked by her publicists to drop Arab riffs from her music because it would affect sales.
Shaheen said she refused, and quoted her response.
“I will not rip out my heart, my insides, to please those bigots,” she said.
|ASU member Roza Abdulridha|
She said what the students learn about teamwork and leadership from the projects that the group puts together will play a major part in their future.
“We won’t let our parents down,” she said. “We will continue to make them proud of us.”