Mosque opposition in Sterling Heights is about more than location

On September 10th, there’s a scheduled planning commission hearing regarding a proposed mosque off of 15 Mile Rd and Ryan Rd in Sterling Heights, Michigan.  The proposed mosque has been met with opposition in three different city government meetings within the past month.  Much of the opposition has come from the Chaldean community, a Semitic people who are Christians that originate from Iraq. Even the mayor voiced his opposition to the mosque project in part to side with the Chaldean community though he backtracked from this position in a media story yesterday.

In 2011 in Farmington Hills, some within the Chaldean community teamed up with members of the Orthodox Jewish community to oppose the Islamic Cultural Association’s (ICA) plan to establish a community center with a prayer area.  During the same year, members of the Chaldean community launched vitriolic opposition against the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) which sought to establish the first mosque in Sterling Heights.  After much contention, the mosque was eventually approved.

As we stood to defend ICA and AMDA, we did not focus on the fact that much of the anti-Muslim bigotry projected at these projects was coming from within the Chaldean community.  Between regular anti-Muslim comments on AM talk radio on almost a daily basisthe Aramaic Broadcasting Network (ABN) based in Walled Lake giving platforms to the nation’s most notorious anti-Muslim bigots, and a series of mosque oppositions, it is clear that there is a serious problem of Islamophobia within the Chaldean community in Michigan.

I empathize with the suffering of Chaldeans in Iraq.  Unlike Sunnis and Shi’is, Chaldeans and Assyrians had no armed militias to protect them after the misguided invasion of Iraq by American and British troops in 2003. Christians were forced from their homes, churches were attacked and clergy were murdered. The once vibrant community of Christians in Iraq has now become almost extinct.

Sterling Heights is in Michigan, however, not Iraq.

Putting Iraq into context, the vast majority of people murdered in Iraq by Al-Qaeda and Daesh have been Muslims.  The majority of houses of worship that continue to be attacked are mosques.  The religious leaders who continue to be killed are overwhelmingly Muslims.

But again, Michigan is not Iraq.

Michigan Muslims are not responsible for the burning churches and killing Chaldeans.  In fact, the majority of Muslims in Michigan and America were opposed to the immoral invasion of Iraq which opened up the hell that caused the large uprooting of Chaldeans to Michigan after 2003.  What is also ironic is that even when it came to Chaldeans opposing AMDA and their invoking of what took place in Iraq, the congregants of AMDA are majority Bengali-Americans, their resident imam is from Pakistani heritage, and I preach there as well, an African-American veteran of the US Navy.  The opposition launched against AMDA was clearly illogical.

Much of the Islamophobia coming from Chaldeans in Michigan is counter-transference in my estimation.  Those who have come here from Iraq suffered deep trauma, and that is being transferred to Michigan Muslims who are not responsible for that trauma.  When persons go through severe trauma, there is a much higher risk that they become abusers if that pain has not been dealt with therapy.  I believe that many Chaldeans migrated to Southeastern Michigan which has a large Muslim population and that trauma was not dealt with robustly enough during their resettlement.  I’m not making excuses for the Islamophobia in their community but am looking at one of the causes that it may be addressed if there is to be path forward after September 10th.

Bigotry is wrong no matter who it is projected at.  In this era in which we are having a national discussion on race relations and legacy of white supremacy, it saddens me to see so many Chaldeans, a people of color, who are using their religious privilege in America to marginalize another community of color.

Supporters, critics of POW Bergdahl swap both fumble


JUN 5, 2014, 2:50 PM

Dawud Walid: Supporters, critics of POW Bergdahl swap both fumble

al conversation relating to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release from being a prisoner of war in Afghanistan in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees. I’d like to look at two troublesome issues pertaining to these.

Release of Alleged Terrorists is Highly Questionable

Sergeant Bergdahl’s release involved freeing five senior members of the Taliban.

Since the Taliban is a terrorist organization, which didn’t seem to matter when we were helping them fight the Soviets, it’s still baffling that these men were never tried by the Obama administration in military or civil court as being part of a designated terrorist organization.

If the United States is certain that these Taliban members are extremists, it makes little sense that they would be released. These were not low-level foot soldiers. Those on the Left question why these men were never given a trial, if indeed they are what the government says they are, and those on the Right who say that President Barack Obama should have consulted more with Congress about the greater implications of releasing purported terrorists, both have valid grievances.

I’m not buying what President Obama did either way, though I’m glad the Bergdahl family will be reunited.

Attacks Against Bergahl’s Father are Uncalled for

Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, has made some very strong criticisms pertaining to American foreign policy in Afghanistan. He’s been called un-American and a traitor in the process.

As a father of a prisoner of war who has feared for the life of his son, he has every right to question the war which led not only to the five-year ordeal of his son, but also led to the deaths of over 20,000 people. He has that right as an America to question our wars even if his son wasn’t detained.

In the process of that questioning, which we’re taught in civics class is a freedom we have as Americans, not only has he been falsely labeled as a Benedict Arnold, but he’s even had Islamophobia deployed against him. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, for instance, stated that the father, who sports a long beard, “looks like a Muslim. He’s somewhat sympathetic to Islam.” The guy’s beard could easily pass for someone who is part of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, the Amish or,  a hippie, or a cast member of Duck Dynasty.

But to O’Reilly and his ilk, associating him with Islam automatically paints him as being other than a real American.

When Sergeant Bergdahl returns home, I hope that his family and community in Idaho have a peaceful reunification. Moreover, it’s my prayer that it goes off without O’Reilly-philes who would seek to paint the Berdahls as immoral heathens and un-patriotic Muslim sympathizers.

We should be able to have difficult conversations about President Obama’s policies and how our military operates without so much rancor and incivility.


“Honor Diaries,” a new film associated with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam, has sparked a series of protests since premiering on March 8 — International Women’s Day — at the United Nations in New York. The documentary chronicles violence against women in Muslim-majority communities, and last week’s decision by Brandeis University to withdraw Hirsi Ali’s honorary doctorate coincided with heated debates on campuses across the United States about the merits of discussing the cultural roots of gender-based violence at the risk of furthering what activists say is the film’s anti-Islamic agenda.

The film alternates between opinions from self-proclaimed experts and ominous statistics and vignettes about gender-based violence. Those include interviews with a 10-year-old child bride in Yemen, murder trials for honor killings involving Muslim immigrants’ daughters in the U.S., images of women’s faces disfigured by acid attacks and a testimony about a forced marriage in the United Kingdom that ended with the bride’s committing suicide. Nine women’s rights advocates share their stories of abuse and give advice during round table discussions on honor violence.

The women in the film are unsure whether to blame culture, religion or other women for the atrocities. “Is this Islam?” one participant asks. “If not, what are we doing to change it? And if there is anything within our faith that allows that men feel empowered to do that,” she adds, “how are we fighting that?”

But other activists say that the film’s funder, the Clarion Project — which has been responsible for documentaries such as “The Third Jihad” and “Radical Islam’s Vision for America” — and executive producer Hirsi Ali’s hostility toward Islam leave little doubt that the documentary has an anti-Islamic agenda.

The producers of the film are “seeking to hijack a legitimate issue to promote its anti-Muslim agenda,” Ibrahim Hooper, communication director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Al Jazeera. “I’ve compared it to the KKK producing a documentary about the American Jewish community and then nobody being able to question the agenda of its producers.”

Linda Sarsour, civic engagement coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities and a self-described progressive women’s rights activist who said she is pro-choice, told Al Jazeera that even though some of the film’s featured activists may be “well-intentioned,” the documentary equates violence against women with Islam. “We don’t need Islamophobes to talk to us and tell the stories of oppressed and abused Muslim women,” she said. “It’s just disingenuous.”

The University of Michigan and the University of Illinois have canceled or postponed planned screenings of the film. Beth Marmarelli, communications director at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera in a statement it postponed the screening “because many of the [event’s] panelists were not able to attend the event.”

“We are working on a new date to show the film on campus,” Marmarelli said.

But Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said his organization is in talks with the university, hoping to dissuade it from screening a movie that he said discusses issues that deserve the public’s attention but “intentionally misframes [honor violence] as a Muslim issue.”

The producers of “Honor Diaries” were unavailable for comment, and Hirsi Ali declined to be interviewed.

But CAIR’s objections to the film were challenged by Raheel Raza, who is featured in the film and is one of the first Muslim women to lead prayers at mosques in Canada.

“It’s still far better that we as Muslim women have spoken on [honor violence] than some Islam hater who wanted to pick up the issue and talk about it,” she said. “This a human rights issue that’s been brushed under the carpet for so long.”

Qanta Ahmed, a physician and conservative columnist featured in the documentary, told Al Jazeera the backlash needs to be “put into perspective,” saying “the attempt to arrest the screenings in the U.S. is very minor.”

Ahmed called the detractors’ views “incredibly myopic,” adding that those activists are harming women by deliberately silencing a debate on honor violence in communities where she said the practice is most prevalent. For example, the practice of female genital mutilation “is not advocated in Islam in any way,” she says in the film. “It doesn’t appear in the Quran but has very much been adopted by some Muslim societies.”

Female genital mutilation is not specific to Muslims, although it is prevalent in many Muslim-majority nations in Africa as well as Yemen and Iraq, according to a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund. In Niger, 55 percent of Christian women had undergone the procedure, while 2 percent of Muslim women there have experienced some form of cutting. An estimated 125 million women worldwide have been cut, and 30 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation in the next decade, according to the study, which surveyed women in 29 countries over the past three years.

Gender politics

A similar controversy surrounded Brandeis University’s decision last Tuesday to reverse itself on conferring an honorary degree on Hirsi Ali, after a campaign by Muslim students who said giving the degree to Hirsi Ali was hurtful to their community. “This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,” said Sarah Fahmy, a Brandeis senior and member of the Muslim Student Association who started a petition objecting to the honorary degree for Hirsi Ali, prior to the withdrawal.

“The selection of Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree is a blatant and callous disregard by the administration of not only the Muslim students but of any student who has experienced pure hate speech,” she wrote. “While we are not belittling the severity of the issues that she raises, she uses hate speech against Islam as a means to do this.” Fahmy quoted some of Hirsi Ali’s remarks in an interview with the magazine Reason, in which she called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

Sarsour commended Brandeis for withdrawing the honorary doctorate. “The problem we have with Ayaan Hirsi Ali,” she said, “is not that we invalidate her own experience, but she equates violence against women to Islam.” Sarsour added that “her story does not represent Islam or all Muslim women” and that Hirsi Ali “has few allies among Muslim women around the world.”

Esmaa Alariachi, president of Dutch Muslim women’s organization Al Nisa, told Al Jazeera that Hirsi Ali’s political legacy among Muslim women in the Netherlands, where she was a member of parliament from 2003 to 2006, was virtually nonexistent.

Somali-born Hirsi Ali requested asylum in the Netherlands after fleeing an arranged marriage with her cousin and undergoing genital mutilation. She quickly rose to prominence as a politician, campaigning on issues of gender-based violence, especially female cutting.

Unlike in Somalia, Alariachi said, female genital mutilation “has never been an issue among the country’s Moroccan and Turkish communities.”

The former host of shows “The Girls of Halal” and “Bimbos and Burkas,” — polemical platforms of debate exploring some of the country’s issues with multiculturalism and immigration — she said Hirsi Ali never responded to her invitations to appear as a guest. “She didn’t want to talk with Muslim women. She would rather talk about Muslim women,” Alariachi said.

“She carefully chose whom to engage,” she said. “The white Dutchman reveled in everything she had to say. She had a very hard life, and she, unfortunately, blamed Islam for it.”

Addressing Genital Mutilation with Justice, Not Deception

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), meaning all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, is a horrendous practice, which must be combated not only through criminalization but also through education regarding its traumatic effects.  This physically painful mutilation, falsely done in the name of preserving sexual modesty and chastity, is one of the most overt forms of misogyny in the world today.  As I believe that it should be robustly fought against, I also see that opportunists in America are misusing this oppression as a means of promoting and enabling Islamophobia for political purposes and monetary benefit.

The recent nationwide campaign to promote a documentary supposedly made to empower Muslim women titled “Honor Diaries” which was produced by the notorious anti-Muslim organization Clarion Project formerly known as the Clarion Fund attempts to highlight FGM/C as a Muslim issue.  Whereas some Muslim girls are victims of FMG/C, the problem with this narrative is that this form of mutilation is primarily done in certain countries in Africa, not the majority of the Muslim world, plus its victims’ families are practitioners of indigenous faiths, Christianity and Islam.  Hence, the narrative projected by Clarion Project and its enablers is fallacious in the sense that this problem is not specifically Muslim, nor are the vast majority of Muslim women stretching from North America to Indonesia subjected to this cultural torture.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the state of Washington to ban and give legal consequences for those performing FGM/C.  I’m in agreement with such legislation on the surface.  The problem becomes when supporters of such legislation, as with the so-called anti-sharia laws or restriction of foreign laws legislation, intentionally use such an issue, which is not widespread in America, as a means of subtly promoting Islamophobia under the guise of preventing a problem before it takes root.

I’m an advocate for protecting the rights of women as well as providing increased funds to states for improving access for providing counseling to immigrant communities that are from countries in which FGM/C is widely practiced.  This can be done, however, without unjustly portraying American Muslims in the process to further marginalize the community in the socio-political arena.  True justice by nature cannot be achieved through unethical tactics.

As Imam Ali (May Allah Ennoble His Face) said, “The victor by means of mischief is a loser.”  As we as a nation strive to become a “more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all,” it’s our responsibility to make sure that we help those in need without injustice being committed in the name of protecting and empowering women who have been victimized.

Dawud Walid: Agema, Patterson fiascos summon need for GOP internal reform

JAN 22, 2014, 2:00 PM 

Dawud Walid: Agema, Patterson fiascos summon need for GOP internal reform

The recent fiascos pertaining to racist discourse from Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson highlight the need for the GOP to systematically encourage diversity and robustly eschew race politics as a top priority for its own survival.

Republican U.S. Representatives Candice Miller, Fred Upton and Justin Amash have called for Agema to resign his position in part to his most recent anti-Muslim comments.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has been even more firm by saying that Agema should be kicked out. That Agema was elected to his post without major uproar within the GOP, given his controversial history as a state representative of making false claims that Dearborn is infested with “sleeper cells,” his introduction of anti-Islam legislation under the guise of an anti-foreign laws bill, his birtherism and other extremely divisive stances, however, just reflects how soft the GOP has been on bigotry.

Patterson, who also has a history of boorish and divisive rhetoric, has not received the condemnation that Agema has within the GOP for his latest offensive talk. Patterson, however, is just as big of a problem for the Republican Party as a solidifier of the frame that the GOP is the not the party for non-white folks.

Just in case you missed Patterson’s interview in the New Yorker Magazine, he’s quoted as saying:

What we are going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian Reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.

Given that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “Our nation was born in genocide” as it relates to Native Americans, Patterson’s comments seem even more racist as we just celebrated MLK Day. Making reference to a majority population which is Black being herded like cattle with ethnic cleansing of Native Americans is one of the most outrageous comments that I’ve seen from an American politician in my lifetime. His words read more like a quote from the infamous 1960s-era Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Bull Connor than a 21st century politician in a northern metropolitan area.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s call for civility in his State of State address and his MLK Day message were nice, but don’t reflect real leadership that the GOP needs in this area. The top Republican in state government needs to call people out by name and make an unequivocal call that the GOP must have an honest internal conversation about the bias too many within it project. Anything less is just playing around and not giving serious attention to eradicating the voices of intolerance within the party.

Many of my colleagues and friends actually agree with aspects of the GOP platform. However, as long as the Republican Party appears to be weak on eradicating racism and discrimination against minorities in general, it will never get a sizable percentage of votes from those who I know.

Given shifting populations demographics, the GOP must change or slide into the realm of unelectability outside of small, White segregated districts in the near future.