DEARBORN — Between 1995 and 2012, thousands of people visited the capital of Arab America for a taste of their homelands’ cultures and a grand celebration.
The three-day Arab festival has been called the largest gathering of Arab Americans; it drew in three times Dearborn’s population of nearly 90,000. It was also a kind of celebration where Arab World superstars and Mediterranean food vendors promoted the richness and beauty of the Arabic culture.
However, the festival was canceled when American Arab Chamber of Commerce faced higher liability insurance costs because of growing tensions with intruders.
Groups with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim declarations began to visit frequently and protests precluded the highly concentrated Arab American community from celebrate as loudly and publically.
Mayor Jack O’Reilly told The AANews about the numerous accommodations made to keep the festival going for years prior to its cancellation.
“For any festival and so on, you can limit an area of space for people who want to give voice to whatever and create the practice of free speech,” O’Reilly said. “Yet, the only reason they come is to be disruptive and we dealt with it as best as we could.”
O’Reilly further emphasized the problems both the festival and city officials faced.
“There was a court case,” he said. “And the judge said if the place is open for other things aside from the event (like business owners and vendors), then the whole event has to be open.”
He emphasized his concern about having those intruders chase children with disturbing signs that have food that shouldn’t be on them.
Once the court decision was made, the festival would have been held on Warren Ave. and open to everyone. It couldn’t be used as a station to limit access to other people.
City officials and the Chamber then decided not to hold the festival anymore because it would have lead to many lawsuits.
O’Reilly said there are always larger parks to host such recreational and celebratory activities like the Dearborn Homecoming, which took place in Ford Field Park. In that way, people who would like to protest and exercise free speech would have their own area to do so. The event, if hosted in a large park rather than a large avenue, would not be open for them to hassle others; the event will not have to be open for them to go everywhere.
“It is not that it cannot be done,” O’Reilly told The AANews. “It is that it cannot be done on Warren Avenue because in order to do that everyone on Warren Avenue would have to agree to shut down their businesses except for the activity itself.”
O’Reilly acknowledged the importance of the festival for the community, yet said it was a bigger responsibility to protect attendees and provide a safe environment.
Mayor O’Reilly expressed his hope that the Arab International Festival in Dearborn might return, just not to Warren Avenue. In the meantime, smaller events such as the Arab and Chaldean Festival still take place to celebrate unity and appreciation of culture.