An offensive opinion article on the city of Dearborn published by the Wall Street Journal last week sparked feelings of anxiety and resentment among the local community, summoning a widespread wave of condemnation that included President Biden, Governor Whitmer and other prominent officials, while local Arab American leaders called in a press conference for an apology and retraction of the inflammatory article describing Dearborn as the “capital of jihad” in America.
The headline of the piece about Dearborn published Friday, Feb. 2, aimed criticisms at residents for recent pro-Palestine demonstrations.
The op-ed by Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), claimed that Dearborn residents have celebrated the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and demonstrated “open support for Hamas.”
The MEMRI is an American non-profit press monitoring and analysis organization co-founded by Israeli ex-intelligence officer Yigal Carmon and Israeli American political scientist Meyrav Wurmser in 1997, according to its website.
“Thousands march in support of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran,” Stalinsky wrote in his op-ed. “Protesters, many with kaffiyehs covering their faces, shout ‘Intifada, intifada,’ ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ and ‘America is a terrorist state.’ Local imams give fiery anti-Semitic sermons. This isn’t the Middle East. It’s the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Mich.”
The opinion piece was published amid the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza. Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Dearborn and other cities in Michigan and across the United States have called for a ceasefire. Since the start of the war, the Palestinian death toll has exceeded 30,000, 70,000 injured and hundreds of thousands homeless.
“What’s happening in Dearborn isn’t simply a political problem for Democrats,” the op-ed concluded. “It’s potentially a national-security issue affecting all Americans. Counterterrorism agencies at all levels should pay close attention.”
ACRL and local leaders hold a press conference
On Monday, members of the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) and local leaders held a press conference outside the Dearborn Police Department and denounced the op-ed.
“Daily I speak to families that have lost dozens of loved ones and continue to watch helplessly as their loved ones are maimed, bombed and pushed out of their homes in Gaza,” ACRL Executive Director Mariam Charara said at the press conference.
“Words have consequences,” Charara said. “The inflammatory and dehumanizing language you served is fuel for fire that ignites the bigotry, intolerance and ultimately violence against innocent civilians we have seen in this country.”
At the press conference, which included a range of leaders, some demanded an apology from the Wall Street Journal. Others invited the writer to visit Dearborn to see the diversity and vibrancy of one the few Metro Detroit communities that is gaining population.
“How dare you talk about this community and say that we are a jihadist state,” said Nabih Ayad, a local attorney and the founder of the ACRL.
“Make no mistake about it, we’re not talking about the Palestinian issue here, we’re not talking about the political issue here, we’re not talking about any other issue,” Ayad said. “We’re talking about the safety of our community.”
Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, the president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, was also in attendance.
“The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,'” Anthony said. “In the recent article entitled ‘Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital,’ published by the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 2, written by Steven Stalinsky, herein lies a key example of the ignorance of the facts of life in the city of Dearborn.”
“We’ve got to just step back and ask ourselves when enough is enough,” said Abed Ayoub, the national executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Is it when a child gets stabbed to death in Illinois? Is it when a mosque is attacked? Is it when three young Arab American students shot in Vermont because they wearing the Palestinian Keffiyeh? When is enough, enough? The Wall Street Journal needs to ask itself the same question. Because they will be held responsible if anything happens inside this city or to any Arab American or Arab across the country.”
“We are Arab Americans and we are proud of who we are,” said Osama Siblani, a community advocate and publisher of The Arab American News, a Dearborn-based newspaper that has been publishing in English and Arabic for nearly 40 years. “And this person is not going to take it away from us. The Wall Street Journal will not make us shake… We are not scared. We have done nothing wrong other than exercising our right to speak and assemble. You know why we’re not scared? Because we are exercising our rights, which are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“We are a hospitable and welcoming community,” Siblani added. “We invite this writer to visit Dearborn and taste a falafel or a shawarma sandwich, shop in our diverse city and enjoy the pastries and walk in our beautiful and safe parks.”
“This… places a target on our community’s back and makes many in our community feel unsafe,” Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun said. “This irresponsible form of journalism is unacceptable. And whoever was behind it must be held accountable.”
Baydoun and other speakers noted that many Arab Americans proudly serve in the U.S. military and in law enforcement in Michigan. In addition to the news conference, two Arab American leaders joined presidential candidate Cornel West as he visited Dearborn and posted a video on X that condemned the article. The Dearborn-based American Human Rights Council also released a statement Monday calling the piece irresponsible.
President Biden condemns anti-Arab hate
On Sunday, President Biden came to the defense of Michigan’s largest Arab community in what appeared to be a response to the opinion piece, calling on the nation to “condemn hate in all forms.”
“Americans know that blaming a group of people based on the words of a small few is wrong,” he said Sunday on X. “That’s exactly what can lead to Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate, and it shouldn’t happen to the residents of Dearborn — or any American town. We must continue to condemn hate in all forms.”
Biden’s social media post comes amid months of mounting frustration among Michigan’s Arab and Muslim communities over the president’s support for Israel in the Israeli war on Gaza and the failure to secure a ceasefire in the Strip.
The frustrations have boiled over in recent weeks, culminating in a canceled meeting with Biden campaign officials and the arrest of a pro-Palestinian protester at a Biden campaign stop in Warren on Thursday.
Governor Whitmer and other elected officials in condemning the WSJ piece
Michigan politicians quickly condemned the WSJ piece, including the governor and Democratic U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, who said the column is “outrageous, dangerous and just plain wrong!”
“Dearborn is a vibrant community full of Michiganders who contribute day in and day out to our state,” Gov. Whitmer said Sunday on X. “Islamophobia and all forms of hate have no place in Michigan, or anywhere. Period.”
Whitmer, speaking to reporters after an event in Grand Rapids, said the opinion article misrepresented Dearborn and is the type of rhetoric that can lead to people feeling unsafe.
“I thought that that opinion article was incredibly cruel and ignorant, and a total misrepresentation of an important city full of a lot of beautiful people who are Michiganders and are our neighbors and our extended family,” she said.
“I recognize that there are a lot of people hurting because of the war that is raging in Israel and Gaza. (There are) people with Jewish relatives who are hurting, people with Palestinian or Muslim relatives that are hurting and that’s why my job as governor has been to try to keep the heat down here at home. Make sure people are safe whether they worship in a mosque, or synagogue or a church or anywhere else, for that matter. I thought that that opinion article was really abhorrent.”
On Sunday, Whitmer also posted “Islamophobia and all forms of hate have no place in Michigan” on her campaign X account.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell: Dearborn was my home for almost 40 years
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) posted on her X account, “Another example of hate directed at a community that is already hurting, resulting in fear, vitriol and threats of violence. Dearborn was my home for almost 40 years with the man I loved. My neighborhood and friends were supportive, caring and dedicated.
“We cannot let hatred of any kind, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism destroy people,” she added. “We must stand up to hate everywhere and anywhere we see it.”
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud reacts to the WSJ’s inflammatory piece
Mayor Abdullah Hammoud called for an increased number of police patrols in places of worship after the publication of the WSJ opinion article.
Hammoud also took note of Biden’s condemnation Sunday.
“The unfortunate reality is Islamophobia has become an acceptable form of hate,” he said on X. “Those who demonize or stereotype Muslims or Arab Americans quickly find bigger platforms and greater notoriety. I’m glad President Biden @POTUS recognizes the severity and danger of the @WSJ article.”
Hammoud called on the Biden administration to “recognize the rhetoric and decision-making that created the climate for it to be written in the first place.
“… If anyone is wondering how they can make a difference, come to Dearborn and witness how diversity has moved our community forward.”
In an X post published Saturday, Hammoud announced police would ramp up their presence at places of worship and major infrastructure points “as a direct result” of the piece in the WSJ. Dearborn police also will monitor social media for threats, Hammoud said in a statement.
“This is more than irresponsible journalism,” Hammoud said in the statement. “Publishing such inflammatory writing puts Dearborn residents at increased risk for harm.”
Wayne County Commissioner David Knezek
Other state leaders, including Wayne County Commissioner David Knezek, posted in support of Hammoud, touting his leadership in bringing the community together.
“Rather than uplift the WSJ’s divisive and dangerous language, I wanted to remind people of the beautiful and wonderful city that I and countless others know the city of Dearborn to be,” Knezek wrote on social media Saturday afternoon.” I am grateful for Mayor Abdullah H. Hammoud, his leadership and the leadership of all the city’s elected officials — I will always stand strong in support of our neighbors.”
Dearborn Public Schools superintendent Glenn Maleyko.
“Many of you are aware of an opinion article that appeared this weekend in the Wall Street Journal,” Maleyko said in a statement to parents and students of Dearborn Public Schools. “The editorial grossly misrepresented our community and the proud people who live and work in Dearborn. I’m outraged that this type of commentary, that only fuels stereotypes and even worse hate toward Arab and Muslim Americans, was published. This type of inflammatory commentary encourages racism toward Arab and Muslim Americans. I support the freedom of the press, but strongly disagree with the publishing of opinion pieces filled with harmful speech.”