Muslims in the US

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslims living in the US were increasingly suffered from assaults and harassment. Lale Konuk has visited the Muslim-Arab community in Dearborn, Michigan.

Neon signs in Arabic script glow in the windows of Dearborn’s busy shopping streets. Muslim women, sportily dressed in trainers and headscarves, drive their vans down the city’s broad avenues. Around 250,000 immigrants from the Middle East live in Detroit, Michigan, close to the Canadian border. Seventy thousand of them are based in Dearborn, birthplace of the automobile mogul Henry Ford.

Many of these people are descended from immigrants who arrived in the States generations ago and went on to build up a life for themselves. These Arab-Americans feel at home in Dearborn; but here too, reports the Lebanese-American Najwa Haydooz, there has been serious discrimination in the wake of September 11th. Women who wear the “hejab” headscarf have been particularly prone to attacks. People who had lived peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbours for years suddenly began eyeing them distrustfully, and some Muslims were even spat on. Mothers had their headscarves ripped off while they picked up their children from school, says Najwa Haydooz (who does not herself wear the hejab).

Muslim immigrants over 16 to register with the FBI

That things did not get even worse may be partially attributed to the numerous expressions of solidarity from local people, but it was also due to the presence of such institutions as ACCESS, the oldest Arabic welfare organisation in Michigan. ACCESS provides help and advice to Arab immigrants, and its services are increasingly in demand in matters pertaining to immigration law. Under the Patriot Act, which was introduced in the name of fighting terrorism, immigrants have been subjected to particularly stringent entry procedures.

Since last autumn, all male illegal immigrants over the age of 16 have been required to register with the FBI, if they come from North Korea or any one of 24 listed Muslim countries – but those who register may well be deported immediately and forbidden to enter the United States for many years to come.

The Palestinian legal advisor Akbar Abusharar finds this treatment unjust, and points out that there are millions of other illegal immigrants in the country, including those from Mexico: “If you’re going to apply the immigration laws correctly and fairly, then you have to treat all human beings equally.”

“We want a dialogue between civilisations”

There are an estimated 3.5 million immigrants of Arabic origin living in the USA, yet hardly any of them criticise the policies of the Bush administration in public. Indeed, many Arab-Americans voted for George Bush as President, and their 60,000 votes in Florida are said to have been a crucial factor in his victory. Imam Qazwini from the Islamic Centre of America in Detroit, says that relations are excellent between Bush and the Arab community in Dearborn. The President has already visited the community on several occasions, and he also received the Iraqi Shiite Imam in the White House. Imam Qazwini explains that his criticism is directed not at the Bush administration but at the Christian fundamentalists who influence the President: “We don’t want an America that’s seen as the enemy of the Muslim world; we want a dialogue between civilisations.”

Lale Konuk

© 2003,

Translated from German: Patrick Lanagan

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