Dearborn Patch article addressed concerns about the location of the annual Dearborn Arab Festival. For several years, the festival has been held on Warren Avenue. However, because the sidewalks adjacent to the festival remain public property during the event, criticism and protest are protected by the First Amendment. In 2012, a group of anti-Islam protesters showed up with signs condemning Muhammad (not to mention a pig's head on pole), and some young Muslims responded violently. Mayor John O'Reilly, a notorious defender of the city's campaign against free speech, hopes that organizers will consider moving the festival to a closed location, where the city will not be responsible for handling protesters.
Of course, the only reason protesters show up at the festival is that Dearborn leaders (with occasional help from the American Arab Chamber of Commerce) spent years violating the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. I attended the Arab Festival in 2008 and 2009, and I didn't see any protesters. In 2009, however, the Police Department declared that Christians wouldn't be allowed to distribute pamphlets or Bibles, even on the public sidewalks around the festival. This was the same year we were attacked by security for asking a question at a booth that invited us to ask questions. The following year, we were arrested for having a peaceful discussion with some Muslim teenagers who approached us with questions about Christianity. Two days later, police took us into custody again for attempting to distribute Bibles outside the festival.
convicted and jailed for planning to protest outside a mosque). Now that the city has gained worldwide attention for its stance against free speech, city leaders want to move the festival in order to escape the consequences of their actions.
The local population is divided over whether to move the festival, and, even more importantly, over how Muslims should respond to protesters. The Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook group hosted a discussion about the move, and some of the comments were enlightening. A Muslim named Aboudi Berro suggested moving the festival to an area where protesters could be more easily murdered:
Muhammad Khatib, by contrast, advocated keeping the festival at its regular location. However, he suggested arming the security guards (the gang of thugs who assaulted us in 2009):
Perhaps the most encouraging comment came from a young Muslim who defended the First Amendment rights of Islam's critics. Ali Sayed Ahmad wrote:
And here we see the great divide that plagues the once great City of Dearborn. On the one hand, there are many Muslims who genuinely love America and the rights it guarantees. (Here I should include Majed Moughni, a local Muslim lawyer who spoke out on our behalf after police threw us in jail.) On the other hand, there are some who would gladly execute protesters who criticize Muhammad, and more who want such criticism outlawed.
In a sane world, politicians, police, and the media would support and encourage those who believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In actuality, leaders do everything in their power to appease the most hateful voices among us. With better leaders in place, I think there would be hope for Dearborn. But with Mayor O'Reilly, Judge Mark Somers, and a corrupt police force in charge, things just can't move forward. Perhaps instead of changing the location of the Arab Festival in order to silence critics, the city should instead focus on changing the behavior that led to the protests.