DEARBORN — A “who’s who” of national, state and local officials and leaders from the Arab American community joined nearly 700 supporters and friends at The Arab American News’ 35th anniversary banquet at the Bint Jabeil Cultural Center this past Friday. They celebrated its achievements and looked forward to its future.
Attendees were treated to videos of the newspaper’s long and storied history, including Publisher Osama Siblani’s memorable appearances on local and national TV shows during times of crisis and controversy surrounding the Arab American community.
They were also introduced to staff members and enjoyed a full course meal catered by well known Dearborn chef Habib Bazzi and his staff.
As guests prepared to dine, state leaders took to the podium to share their memories and impressions of The Arab American News’ work over the years to protect the community and share its stories.
“Thanks to The Arab American News for 35 incredible years,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“I think it’s true when they say democracies die in darkness,” she said, “and The Arab American News has been there for many years to shed light on not just what’s happening in the Arab American community, but what’s happening all around our state and all around our nation. It is an incredible necessary and important voice.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) thanked her friends in the community for helping her to get through the recent loss of her late husband, former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dean of the U.S. House.
“I want you to think about the last 35 years and the stories we have to tell,” she said while presenting a Congressional resolution to Siblani. “Tonight is the story of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are two of the most fundamental pillars of our constitution. Osama has been at the forefront of making sure we protect both of those pillars.”
Abdul El-Sayed, who ran for governor this past November, called the newspaper the “lifeblood” of the Arab American community and said its ability to share its stories is needed more now than ever before.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan), a longtime friend of the paper, took on the controversial topic of the “terrorist watch list”, saying that he has called for a bipartisan effort to correct problems with the list. It includes the names of many innocent local Arab and Muslim Americans, including one 9-year-old child, and has troubled many in light of recent reports that names on the list have recently been provided to more than 1,400 private entities. Ongoing harassment at the border and airports has occurred to many on the list. It’s almost virtually impossible to get off the list without a federal lawsuit.
“We’ll be doing a deep dive to find out how we can correct this legislation,” said Peters, who also thanked the newspaper for its activism and impact and presented the paper with a copy of a resolution read into the Senate record, recognizing the paper’s 35 years of outstanding service.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she loves her relationship with Siblani and the newspaper’s staff.
“What I love most about this paper is Osama Siblani and his staff are not afraid to speak truth to power,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how powerful the person is, no matter how powerful the nemesis is or how powerful the friend is, they will tell the truth no matter how unpopular that may be; and not everybody and every news outlet will do that as well.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson illustrated the newspaper’s wide-ranging community impact with a story about a recent accomplishment.
The Arab American News had informed Benson of problems at Dearborn’s Secretary of State branch, which had no Arabic speaking employees, an issue resulting in long lines of as many as 90 people or more on any given day. With no translation services at the branch, residents had been forced to bring friends and family members with them in order to complete needed paperwork.
Upon hearing of this issue, Benson went undercover at the branch, and within two weeks had hired two Arabic speaking employees to fix the issue, an experience that also compelled her to launch a tour of 131 branch offices across the state to fix similar issues.
“I just want to thank Osama Siblani and all the work that you do at The Arab American News to assure the community remains informed and connected to the work we are all doing,” she said.
Attorney and AAPAC founder Abed Hammoud, a longtime friend and confidant of Siblani’s, said his father once recommended working with him despite not seeing eye-to-eye with Siblani at the time, saying he will, “always tell it like it is and have the community’s best interests at heart.”
“These are the fruits of hard work and endless nights,” Hammoud said of the newspaper, which has aligned closely with AAPAC to provide Arab American candidates and others who support the community a platform to seek and secure nominations. “Today, we see the respect officials and government give to our community and many in our community hold high positions in government.”
Hammoud added that there are those who shoot at Arab Americans and Muslims at mosques and harass them at the airports and at the border crossings, saying Arab Americans and Muslims are expected to “pack their stuff and leave.”
“And guess what? We are sending people, we are packing people and sending them to Washington, D.C.,” he said, referencing recently elected leaders like U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and others.
Other dignitaries and officials present at the event included Judge Mariam Bazzi of the Third District Court, Chief Judge Gene Hunt and Judge Sam Salamey of the 19th District Court, Judge Travis Reeds of Novi, Dearborn Heights City Councilman Bob Constan, Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun, Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, Dearborn City Clerk George Darany, Henry Ford Community College President Russ Kavalhuna, Arab American pioneer and Wayne County Commissioner Al Haidous, New Michigan Media Founder Hayg Oshagan, Michigan Korean Weekly Publisher Tack Yong-Kim and Fox 2 News anchor Huel Perkins.