Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Blog

Every June, Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb with one of the country’s most concentrated Arab American populations, holds an Arab International Festival, a celebration of Arab food, culture, music and Dearborn’s thriving Arab American community. In the last few years, though, the festival has also attracted all manner of anti-Muslim protesters, from Islamophobes warning of the imminent Sharia takeover to Christian missionaries interested in converting Muslims. This year’s festival, which took place this past weekend, was no exception. The event drew multiple groups of anti-Muslim protesters who shouted slogans like “Jesus Akbar,” in response to shouts of “Allahu Akbar” from passing Muslim festival-goers. The protesters’ creativity continued into their signs, which included slogans like “Islam is a religion of blood and murder.” One group even brought a severed pig’s head to parade around the festival. Though most of these hateful groups stuck around for all three days of the festival, one group, called Bible Believers, had to leave to protest a gay festival in Ohio. Even the Bible Believers have their priorities.

The real story of the festival should have been its positive impact on the local economy, not the antics of a tiny band of protesters. According to study conducted by Prof. Daniel Stynes on behalf of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, the festival has an economic impact of about $7 million and supports more than 45 jobs in Dearborn. Of the 300,000 visitors the festival typically attracts, the study estimates that 90,000, or 30%, come from outside the Detroit metro area, bringing with them revenue for hotels, restaurants and other local businesses. For a region still not fully recovered from the effects of the recession, this is a much-needed infusion. Though the protesters’ pig’s head received much of the attention, the festival’s economic impact is its real contribution to Dearborn.

The challenge for Arab Americans and American Muslims attending the festival was to resist reacting to the protesters’ provocations. As Mark Twain said: “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” For the most part, the protesters were ignored, but a fight broke out on Friday evening between protesters and festival-goers, resulting in a number of arrests on both sides for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. This incident aside, the festival provided fun, food and a celebration of Arab American culture. The intolerance, violence and imminent doom of the protesters’ imaginations never materialized.

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