Flailing Fists of Fiery Faith: Angry Words at Dearborn’s Arab Festival

“And they’ll know you are Christians by your love, by your love….”

Easy to sing.  Not so easy to remember, when you’re facing off with someone from the Other Side.  Y’know what I mean?

Dearborn, Michigan has the distinction of having the highest population of Muslims per capita of any city in the United States.  Approximately 30% of Dearborn residents are Arab-American.

So it’s no surprise, then, that Dearborn would host the annual Arab International Festival, the largest outdoor gathering of Arab-Americans in the country.  For Arab-Americans, it’s like the State Fair—an opportunity to gather with friends, to shop, to listen to Arabic music and enjoy Arabic foods.

In recent years some Christian groups have seized the unique opportunity to proselytize, handing out Christian tracts and inviting festivalgoers to learn more about the Christian faith.  Josh McDowell is there signing his books, printed both in English and in Arabic.

This being America, a free country, that seems fair enough—as long as the exchange remains civil and no one oversteps their bounds and gets too “pushy” with their philosophical opponents.

Last weekend, however, the rhetoric escalated and the Arab-Americans—the “good guys” in this situation—were verbally attacked by two different “Christian” groups.

On Friday, June 17, Qur’an-burning Pastor Terry Jones (protected by a bulletproof vest) and his group of “Bible-believers” held a rally in Dearborn.  Jones has spoken and written about “three evils” in America:  homosexuality, abortion and Islam.  One Jones supporter, Rabbi Nachum Shifren of California, derided “Muslims and black people” from the steps of the Dearborn City Hall.  Public sentiment—from Muslims, African-Americans and other Christian groups—prevented Jones and his entourage from parading to the festival, but not before his hateful rhetoric caused at least one young girl to cry.  Her emotional response to Jones’ vitriol reached millions via YouTube.

And on Saturday, although Jones abandoned his plans to attend the festival, another group calling themselves “Christian missionaries” made their presence felt.  This was no prayer vigil, though.  The group shouted epithets and insults through a bullhorn, attacking Arabs, Muslims and Islam.  They waved a sign calling Mohammed a “pervert.”

The “Christian missionaries” insulted Catholic Christians, too.  This photo by Haroon Mihtar shows them holding up a large sign calling Catholics “idolaters, Bible rejecters, and worshippers of a wafer god.”  They add, “No Catholics go to heaven.”

The story of civilization has too often been scarred by discrimination.  I think about the Pilgrims who traveled great distances to an unknown land to escape religious persecution—only to inflict their own brand of prejudice and intolerance on the Irish and the Catholics.  And the Africans—my goodness, the Africans!

Not that I’m so darned holy—but I’m pretty sure the spit-in-your-face evangelization of the “Christian missionaries” was not what Jesus had in mind in Mark 12:31, when he admonished his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.”


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