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Friday, October 30, 2009

In the offices of the New York Times of the American Arab community

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I'm in the offices of the Arab American News newspaper in Dearborn Michigan, the capitol of America's Arab American community.

There are about 100 Arab newspapers in this country but the Arab American news is one of the few and maybe the only one that has its own building and a fulltime staff that churns out a newspaper not once a month, not once every two weeks but every week.

Tonight is the deadline and Osama Siblani is working with a full staff of reporters to finish the layout for the latest edition which goes to the press tonight and will be distributed throughout Michigan, the Midwest and other cities across the United States.

The big news today is the killing of an African American Imam at a mosque in nearby Detroit by the FBI. Six of the imam's followers were arrested. The incident involved a shootout between the members of the mosque and the FBI agents who charged the Imam was planning to organize violent attacks against American targets.

The American press is all over it but the Arab American news, which publishes in Arabic and English, better understands the issues of Islam and the differences between Sunni's, Shi'ites and the African American Islamic sects.

The Arab American News is located on Chase off Ford Avenue in the heart of Dearborn's 30,000 Arabs and Muslims. The newspaper is celebrating its 25th year and is distinguished by publishing one fresh edition every week that is never under 48 pages.

"This issue is 52 pages but the largest we have published is 72 pages," Siblani says between directing the editing of a story and its placement and my queries from a nearby desk.

Siblani is also the president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, which celebrates its 12th Anniversary tonight with a banquet where I will be performing standup comedy and satire on American politics, Arab American life and culture.

The typewriter keys on five computers are buzzing. It reminds me of my days working as the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times back in the 1980s and 1990s. It's all done electronically these days. In the old days, we'd call our stories in and dictate the sentences over the telephone. Now, the stories are typed and typeset all in one motion using complex software.

Dearborn is unique for many reasons. It is the one place where all the different Arab sub-groups at least pretend to get along. In Chicago, they stay apart. In Los Angeles, they separate themselves by country clubs. But in Dearborn, they all come together because they recognize that the simple formula for empowerment that power starts at the grass roots level, not at the top offices of the President or the U.S. Congress.

As a result, dozens of candidates, including many of Arab heritage, Muslim and Christian, are running for election in Michigan's general election Tuesday, November 3.

I get this amazing sense of cultural Arab pride when I drive through Dearborn and see the billboards with Arab names and Arabic writing. Every corner has an Arab restaurant, shop or retail establishment.

The names of the candidates vary and represent what every other community continues to try to achieve, complete diversity.

John Bennett. Rose Mary Robinson. Mohamed Okdie. John O'Reilly. Hussein Berry. Abdul Algazali and Abdalla Awwad. One of the candidates creating a buzz is Ali Sayed, a life-long Dearborn resident and only 28 years old who is seeking a position on the Dearborn City council. The list of candidates names running for the Dearborn City Council are all Arab except one, Brian O'Donnell.

The candidates will be feted at the AAPAC dinner and their slogan this year is one that only Dearborn has been able to achieve: "Strength in Unity."

Down the street from the newspaper's offices is the country's only Arab Museum.

Every Arab living in America should make one trip to this city at least to see with their own eyes what true Arab involvement in American society could be like someday in their cities.

It's inspirational. And I'll leave with a sense of where Chicago's divided and distraught American Arab community might one day reach. I hope other cities will also do the same.

-- Ray Hanania

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