Metro Detroiters with Roots in the Middle East Call for Peace
SOURCE: DETROIT FREE PRESS
BY: NIRAJ WARIKOO
Across metro Detroit, people with roots in the Middle East are anxious about rising tensions and how it may affect loved ones abroad and in Michigan, a state with sizable Arab American and Muslim communities. The U.S. killing of Iran’s top military leader and reports of Iranian missile strikes on Tuesday against a base with U.S. military personnel has ratcheted up anxiety about the future.
In Dearborn Heights, a Shia cleric born in Iran who’s an interfaith leader, Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, is praying for peace between the U.S. and his motherland.
In Dearborn, some Arab Americans worry about their civil rights being eroded as they were at the start of the Iraq war in 2003 when federal agents questioned Middle Eastern people and detained some. There have been reports of Iranian Americans in other states saying they are being profiled at border crossings by federal agents.
In Sterling Heights, Chaldean leaders fear for the status of Iraq’s minority groups such as Christians and Yazidis.
And in Southfield, Iraqi government officials with the Iraqi General Consulate of Detroit said Tuesday they are being misunderstood after complaints about them holding an open house to remember Iraqi victims of the Jan. 3 strike by the U.S. in Iraq. Outside, some protesters waving American flags cheered the U.S. attacks in Iraq.
The tensions affect many in Michigan’s Arab and Muslim communities, but especially Iraqi Americans, Iranian Americans and Shia groups such as Dearborn’s Lebanese-American Shia population that may have religious ties to or cultural roots in Shia-majority Iran.
“Sadly, 2020 started with more war, violence and bloody strikes!” Imam Elahi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom, a mosque in Dearborn Heights, wrote. “The news from the Middle East and especially from Iraq so frightening and depressive! Let’s pray for peace and protection! Let’s overcome this fear with faith and trust in the source of peace and love, the Lord of this world! … Let’s pray no more war escalation between Iran and the US!”
In an open letter sent Sunday, Imam Elahi slammed President Donald Trump for attacking Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani.
“If you truly hate ISIS and you are serious about fighting ISIS, you would have known for sure that Soleimani was the real force behind defeating ISIS,” Elahi wrote. “He should have been rewarded as an honest ally in fighting terrorism and saving American lives and be rewarded for it.”
Elahi said: “Let’s pray for peace, understanding, wisdom and the end of war, violence and terrorism in the entire of our global village.”
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said that Iraqi American Christians are worried.
“Our community is particularly concerned as the Christians in the Middle East are often targeted for retaliation because they are deemed to be allies to the West,” Manna told the Free Press. “We are praying for peace and hopeful there will be dialogue and reconciliation between the those involved. Iraq has been at war since 1980 and the people there just want peace within their homeland.”
Regarding Soleimani, Manna, who often works with Iraqi and U.S. officials on trying to help Iraqi Christians, said that “Iraqi government officials … denouncing the airstrikes publicly, but privately, most Iraqi citizens and some Iranian citizens are applauding the killing of General Soleimani. He has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and many parts of the world for quite some time and Iran has been one of the world’s leader in supporting terrorism.”
Manna said the daily protests last year in Iraq and Iran were against the influence of what they said is Iran’s undue interference in Iraq.
At the Iraqi consulate in Southfield in Tuesday afternoon, police kept watch as demonstrators in favor of the U.S. strikes walked outside.
Inside, the Consul General of the Republic of Iraq in Detroit Adnan Al-Maajoon spoke with the Free Press and another reporter about the controversy. Some reports on social media said that the consulate in Detroit was honoring Soleimani, which Al-Maajoon said was inaccurate. Conservative groups and media sites circulated negative reports about the consulate earlier this week.
Speaking in English and in Arabic, at times through a translator, Al-Maajoon said that the Facebook post his consulate posted a few days ago never mentioned Soleimani. He said the post was about remembering the Iraqi victims who died in the U.S. drone strike on Jan. 2, some of whom had battled ISIS.
He said that Iraq’s government asked consulates around the world to have open houses where Iraqis could come and sign memorial books to remember the victims of the Jan. 2 strike.
The open house events were to remember the “Iraqi people killed only,” he said.
Al-Maajoon said they and other consulates have had similar events before, like in March, when he said they had open houses for the victims of an ISIS attack where women and children were among the victims.
Al-Maajoon also said that some on social media who don’t like the Iraqi government were spreading what he said was inaccurate information about the consulate. He said that some had doctored the image of the Facebook post their consulate had put out.
In Dearborn, there was anxiety on Tuesday, especially among its Shia community. When the U.S. and Israel have had tensions with Iranian-tied groups such as Hezbollah, there is fear they will be targeted, said advocates.
Dearborn native Abed Ayoub, an attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, expressed concern about federal law enforcement targeting Shias.
Nabih Ayad, a civil rights advocate and founder of the Dearborn-based Arab American Civil Rights League, said “the community has much anxiety as to what is going to happen next. We are also talking with our government allies to address anxiety that may arise during this time.”
In the past, federal law enforcement agencies would often meet with Arab American leaders in a program called BRIDGES that was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But those meetings petered out after Trump took office.
Dearborn attorney Majed Moughni said a Facebook page he runs called Dearborn Area Community Members has been swarmed with threatening and hateful messages after the U.S. attack on Jan. 2 when he posted stories about Iran.
Moughni said he experienced a “hate which I have never experienced before,” with people calling him an agent of Iran and threatening to report him.
“We are not terrorists just because we disagree with the killing of General Soleimani,” Moughni said. “People are terrified to speak out.”