Tuesday, February 27, 2024

HTML tags Abdullah Hammoud, the 33-year-old mayor of Dearborn, Mich., feels the painful weight of a war being fought 6,000 miles away.He feels it in every corner of his city. He feels it through anguished stories told as he eats breakfast at AlTayeb Restaurant, as he visits Ronnie Berry’s Halal Meats, and in late-night discussions with his closest friends .He feels it when he sees cars and homes freshly draped with the Palestinian flag. He feels it during normally joyful moments: at his city’s Christmas tree lighting, where the mood felt notably somber and subdued; or on Halloween night, when far fewer kids than usual walked his city’s neighborhoods.”With the level of Islamophobia, parents are worried,” Mr. Hammoud says. “Many people are not in the mood to have a good time.”He pauses for a moment. “Not when bombs are dropping in Gaza.”Dearborn, a suburb of roughly 110,000 people bordering Detroit, has one of the highest percentages of Arab Americans among U.S. cities. Census figures show that it is roughly 54 percent Arab American, a figure experts believe is a significant undercount. When he took office in 2022, Mr. Hammoud—the son of Lebanese immigrants, raised in the city’s working-class east side—became the first Arab American Muslim mayor in Dearborn history.But all is not well in Dearborn now. This is a community suffering intensely as it beholds the carnage wrought by the war between Israel and Hamas.The recent pause in fighting brought a respite, but Mr. Hammoud, like many in Dearborn, believed it would only be temporary. And it sparked hard emotion, giving residents a chance to step back and more fully feel the weight of the calamity: the dead and the missing, the wounded and displaced. It also highlighted the potential of a diplomatic solution, which the mayor indignantly said should have been the focus all along.”In this community, right now there is a lot of grief, anger and fear,” Mr. Hammoud said on a recent day, his voice sad and insistent, as he drove around Dearborn in his black Ford F-150 truck. “You can’t help but be anxious when the whole city tells you that they stay up every night following the news, trying to understand how much more death and destruction is happening.””We are feeling everything happening every day,” he added. “This is personal for me. And it is personal for a great majority of my city.”‘Sometimes, people here differ very sharply’Mr. Hammoud’s ascendance to mayor symbolizes how today’s Dearborn starkly diverges from its past. Orville Hubbard, the mayor from 1942 to 1978, was an avowed segregationist who worked to keep Black residents from buying homes in his city, and used a racist slur when referring to Arab Americans. As the population of immigrants from the Middle East climbed during the 1980s, another mayor ran on his ability to solve the city’s “Arab problem.”These days, Dearborn showcases a proud, unabashed Arab American spirit. It is visible in the predominance of Arabic script fronting businesses across the city, many of which also make a point of displaying the American flag. It is visible in the groups of older women in chadors and teenage girls wearing hijabs, walking confidently through a local mall. It is visible in the city’s vaulted mosques, smoky hookah bars, and bustling markets selling Iranian pistachios and Aleppo pepper. It can even be seen at the ballot box. In 2022, Dearborn began offering Arabic-language ballots in its elections.One would be mistaken, however, to think of the community as monolithic, said Sally Howell, a professor of history and Arab American studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.”The majority are Muslim,” Dr. Howell said, “but there are Arab Christians in Dearborn. There’s a working class, a professional class, Republicans and Democrats. The Arab community in Dearborn reflects the full diversity of political points of view and cultural identifications, and it’s all held within this enclave.”Tension in the Middle East among rival Muslim nations sometimes reverberates in Dearborn, Dr. Howell noted, creating schisms and tense relationships. And last year, division roiled Arab American residents when many began pushing to ban books with L.G.B.T.Q. themes or stories in public schools.”Sometimes, people here differ very sharply,” Dr. Howell said. “But generally,” she added, “they get along.”Case in point: Arab Americans from Dearborn banded together to counter anti-Muslim protesters who repeatedly descended upon the city in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war, at times visibly armed and on at least one occasion toting a severed pig’s head—a grievous insult to Muslims.One target of the protesters was the Islamic Center of America, led at the time by Imam Hassan Qazwini, 59, an Iraqi-born cleric who fled the persecution of Saddam Hussein and came to United States in the 1990s. Never, Imam Qazwini said, has he seen Dearborn’s Arab Americans coalesce around an issue as they have around the war in Gaza.”The community is boiling,” he said, “and completely united.”Unified by anguishIn Dearborn, war is no abstraction. Most people in the city, Mr. Hammoud said, either have firsthand experience with such pain or have family and friends in the Middle East who know all too well the cost of war.Home to the Ford Motor Company, the city has always been shaped by waves of newcomers from foreign lands. The lure of the automobile assembly line drew a significant wave of Arab immigrants as Dearborn incorporated in the 1920s.More recently, the mayor said, Arab immigration of the last several decades “was the result of war.””The Lebanese civil war, and the fighting there against Israel, brought a large Lebanese population,” he explained. “The wars in Iraq brought a big Iraqi population. The Yemenis are the latest arrivals. They are here because of war.”Mr. Hammoud’s mother fled from Lebanon to the United States in the 1970s to escape civil war, and his mother-in-law was born in a Palestinian refugee camp. Mr. Hammoud worked as a volunteer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Jordan. More than a hundred of the agency’s workers have been killed in Gaza.Anguish is the unifying emotion in Dearborn now. Worry about Islamophobia, anti-Arab bigotry and the violence they can spark are part of daily reality. Such fear heightened in mid-October when the police arrested a man from a nearby suburb who had made online threats against Palestinians in Dearborn. The Thanksgiving weekend shooting of three Palestinian American college students in Vermont magnified the sense of danger. Investigators have not determined if it was a hate crime.Another reality: the sense of being unmoored. Arab Americans have long faced tides of discrimination as they have sought to gain acceptance across the United States. Still, the 2020 presidential election gave the Dearborn community belief that it had gained a foothold in national politics and corridors of power. Arab American support in Dearborn and throughout Michigan, a critical swing state, helped usher President Biden into the White House.But Mr. Biden’s support for Israel has left many Arab Americans furious and adrift.”Who do we turn to?” said a congregant at the Islamic Center of America, one of the largest mosques in the United States, as Mr. Hammoud attended Friday prayer.The question hung in the air. The congregant said there was no good answer. “I hear some say they’ll vote, but it will be a write-in. People will write Gaza.”Mr. Hammoud’s coterie of close friends and advisers includes a small cluster of Arab Americans in their late 20s and early 30s who grew up in Dearborn, left the comfort of family and a tightly knit community to attend college and returned home, intent on making the city a better place.On a recent day, he gathered with three from this group at a local cafe. Each had a personal story of war. Mariam Jalloul’s was typical. She remembered being 12 years old, on a trip to see family in Lebanon, as deadly fighting between Israel’s army and Hezbollah put her Beirut suburb in the crossfire. She recalled the thrum of falling bombs, the trembling of her shelter and being sure she would not live. “Well, if the building goes down and we all die,” she recalled thinking, “at least I’m with my mom and sisters. I’m not alone. We will all go out together.’”Over Yemeni chai, the scent of roasted cardamom in the air, Mr. Hammoud and his friends searched for solutions and solace.”Before…

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