Congress members Brenda Lawrence (L), John Conyers and Debbie Dingell stand at the podium in front of a group of activists and officials at Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Dec. 21
DETROIT — Heads of civil rights organizations, interfaith activists, government officials and religious leaders gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history to condemn the rising tides of Islamophobia, which are manifesting as hate crimes across the nation.
Speakers from the group dubbed "One Nation, One Voice Against Bigotry and Hate Coalition" took turns denouncing xenophobia and promoting unity at a press conference on Monday morning.
Nabih Ayad, chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL), said those on the path of hate are on the wrong side of history.
"We know very well that diversity inherently is very strong for this nation and for this community," he said.
Democratic U.S. Reps speak out
U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-Detroit), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) took part in the event and voiced support for the local Muslim community.
"How wonderful it is to see in this important hall a group of men and women, leaders of many different organizations, coming together to speak out and encourage the diversity that marks us a great area," Conyers, the dean of the House of Representatives, said.
Congresswoman Lawrence urged Americans to speak up against discrimination.
"History has taught us that the biggest threat to our democracy is silence," she said.
She said allowing bigotry to go on against one group puts the entire society at risk.
"Collectively, if we raise our voices and not be silent, we can make a difference," Lawrence added. "We can show those who are misinformed that hatred will not be tolerated; not in this country, not in southeast Michigan."
Rep. Dingell stressed that metro Detroit residents are united. She described Arab and Muslim Americans as friends and colleagues.
"They are our neighbors; they are our small business owners; they are our doctors," she said. "Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian and he [Jobs] was one of the greatest inventors of this country."
She said anti-Muslim sentiments violate the fundamental founding principles of the United States.
"Stop," Dingell said, addressing those who promote anti-Muslim bigotry. "Enough is enough. It's not who we are as Americans."
The congresswoman said she will scream if she is asked about Muslims' denouncing terrorism again.
"They're speaking out every day, but the media is not covering it," she added.
Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said the backlash against Arab and Muslim Americans harms national security.
"We know that terrorist organizations like ISIS use this rhetoric as propaganda," she said. "They love to use that false narrative that America is at war with Islam."
McQuade said "misguided stereotypes" about Arabs and Muslims are spreading because people are afraid to interact with others who are different."Why is it when Timothy McVeigh commits a terrorist attack in Oklahoma City, no one blames all Catholics?" she asked. "When a White supremacist shoots up a Black church, no one blames all Whites. Yet, when there is a terrorist attack committed by a Muslim, we paint with a broad brush. Why is that? Because we demonize that which is different."
McQuade said during World War II German Americans were not put in internment camps, but Japanese Americans were— "because they look different."
To suggest that Muslim Americans are less American than the rest of us is insulting to all of us," McQuade said. "When it comes to national security, united we stand; and divided we fall."
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans acknowledged the contributions of local Arabs and Muslims to the county.
"Diversity is important to being successful," he said.
Evans said bigotry and lack of respect are a problem for the development of the county, state and nation.
Steve Spreitzer, president of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, said people should come to know the larger human family around them.
"Dr. King marched to Selma for voting rights and to Washington for human rights," he said. "What we need in southeast Michigan is to march across these artificial barriers for human relations and for people to come to know people who are different."
Nabby Yono, vice president of community relations at the Arab American and Chaldean Council (ACC), said prejudice is the same whether against Arabs, Chaldeans, Christians or Muslims and should be condemned.
"We're in it together," he said.
"Did you get it?"
The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani, who emceed the conference, reiterated Arab Americans' stance on terrorism.
"Just in case you did not hear it before, here it is again — we, the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States, condemn terrorist acts, whether they are acted by individuals, groups or governments," Siblani said.
"Did you get it?" he asked reporters. "Did everybody hear it? Should I repeat it again. Stop asking us to apologize for the terrorists, because we are their first victims."
Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly paid tribute to the Charles H. Wright Museum, which chronicles African Americans' historic struggles with slavery and segregation.
The mayor said it was fitting to hold the press conference at the museum because it details some of the greatest mistakes the United States has committed.
"We can't go back and we can't slide back," O'Reilly said. "What I'm most concerned about particularly is our citizens who feel threatened and are afraid."
The mayor added that politicians with supposed credibility are promoting xenophobia at the national level, adding that Muslim citizens fear for their constitutional rights.
"We just can't let that happen," O'Reilly said. "We have to protect everyone."
Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad stressed public safety, reaffirming his department's commitment to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all residents.
"I'm proud to stand here with our group," Haddad said. "We're going to make sure that — from a public safety perspective — we do all we can."
Brenda Rosenberg, the founder of Pathways to Peace Foundation in Action, emphasized the importance of dialogue between ethnic and religious groups.
Rosenberg said she sent an email last week with a list of 12 Jewish civil rights, religious and political organizations that stood with the Muslim community.
"We have to come together and stand together like we're doing today," she said.
The message against Islamophobia was also reiterated by Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of Detroit Chapter of the NAACP; Fatina Abdrabboh, executive director of ADC-Michigan; Shirley Stancato, president of New Detroit; Najah Bazzy, of Zaman International; and former State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, campaign manager of Take on Hate.