FACT-CHECK: What’s going on in Dearborn, Michigan?

I really didn’t want to do another “Muslim thugs” post. However, as I cruise the dark depths of the Internet for potential leads on deceptive news stories, I can’t ignore this hateful virus taking over the /r/The_Donald subreddit. To be fair, this subdomain is mostly harmless, layered with various pro-Trump messages and attacks on Megan Kelley (and her poor ratings). However, peppered throughout, I have found posts reading, “Michigan has a NO GO ZONE for Christians where Sharia Law rules and Police do not enter. And MSM will NEVER report on it” and “CHRISTIANS WIN BIG LAWSUIT AGAINST MUSLIM THUGS IN DEARBORN, MICHIGAN!

So what the hell is going on in Dearborn, Michigan? Well, if your someone who will believe anything they read or (more realistically) someone who will believe anything that they want to believe, this tiny mid-western city is the epicenter of a plot to Islamize the United States. The total population of Dearborn is roughly 100,000,[1] and it is home to somewhere between 30,000[2] and 40,000 Arab Americans of various national backgrounds.[3] According to the 2000 US Census, this ratio (30%) represents by far the largest concentration of Arab Americans per capita in any place in the US.[4] Assuming that the city’s reputation as a jihadist utopia is unfounded (see analysis below), I have a feeling that this demographic reality in Dearborn is the real source of its mythic reputation.

With the anticipation of the US quickly becoming a “majority minority” nation[5] and the rise of White Nationalism into mainstream politics,[6] Americans are looking for a scapegoat. Muslims are a natural target; Americans already hold very negative perceptions of Muslims as compared with other religious groups according to the Pew Research Center.[7]

Demographic fears and racial hate have materialized into narratives used to justify their own existence. Swarms of Muslims men mindlessly rampage through Western (White Christian) cities, assaulting people and property, imposing Sharia Law while waging jihad against our freedom and individuality. This trope, similar to an impulsively violent zombie horde or an assimilating pack of Borg invaders, is well played out in fiction but also mirrored in the real world, providing a disturbing insight into our social psyche. These false narratives serve to simultaneously dehumanize and vilify the target group, labeling them as both inferior and evil, but even more importantly, they induce a sense of combat urgency. Fear of imminent harm leads to irrational judgments, even more so if one is already predisposed to think the enemy is subhuman.

Before I dive into this week’s analysis, I want to be clear: I do not intend to only focus on Islamophobic misinformation with this blog. I recognize bigotry and ignorance within and against all religions, cultures, and individuals. However, as an American, in this time, I am exposed to certain political and religious beliefs more often than others, and am prone to responding to my direct social environment. With that, I’ll start by listing some of the trouble the Muslims of Dearborn have been causing lately.


 

Claim: Dearborn, Michigan is a “no-go” region, where Sharia Law rules and dissention is not tolerated

Source: Various (see below)

Accuracy rating: Radical distortion of reality

Analysis:

The Muslims of Dearborn have been busy. Apparently I’m a bit late to this game. Fact-checking powerhouse, Snopes.com has been reporting on the Dearborn phenomenon since February 2015, with a total of eight articles invalidating the credibility of various reports related to an “Islamic Agenda” in Dearborn.[8] Debunked “fake news” stories include:

  • A photo of sign was posted to Facebook. The description alleged that it was taken outside of a Dearborn mosque, specifically the “Advancement of Islamic Agenda for America” mosque. It reads “Allah be praised America we will kill you all and nothing you can do to stop it Allah be praised”[9]
  • A Home Depot in Dearborn was forcing its employees to undergo ‘Muslim Sensitivity Training,’ as demanded by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.[10]
  • Dearborn’s Muslim Chief of Police announced that he would enforce Sharia Law on all residents during Ramadan, imposing a curfew.[11]
  • Dearborn has become the first US city to implement “all aspects” of Sharia Law, following city council vote.[12]
  • President Obama signed an executive order opening an ISIS-sympathetic youth center in Dearborn.[13]
  • Muslim majority city council banned alcohol in Dearborn.[14]
  • The small town of Menominee, Michigan (population 8,500) will be accepting 4,500 Syrian refugees.[15]
  • There was a pro-ISIS rally in Dearborn, with people waving ISIS flags.[16]
  • And my personal favorite, a video, taken in Dearborn, showed radical Muslims rallying around the image of Jesus’ decapitated head.[17]

 

All of these claims were disproven by Snopes, yet Dearborn’s bad reputation persists. Notably, when you Google “Dearborn Michigan,” the first suggestion below the search bar is “Dearborn Michigan Muslims.”

But, you’re thinking, what about that story I heard about Dearborn being a ‘no-go zone’ and mob of Muslims stoning Christians? Yes, we need to do this again. I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep this brief.

The Reddit post’s accusation relies on a report of an incident, which took place on June 17, 2012 in Dearborn. It claims:

“Christian street preachers assaulted on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan. They were walking in public areas of the annual Dearborn Arab Festival on Sunday 17 June 2012 (Father’s Day), carrying placards and wearing T-shirts bearing mild statements of their belief in Jesus Christ. Dozens of Arab Muslim Festival-goers, both men and womenbecame (sic) verbally abusive and then physically violent with the Christians, pushing, shoving, and hurling objects at them that included bottles, eggs, and rocks. The shrieking mob chanted “Allahu Akbar.” Repeatedly, the Christians asked for protection from Wayne County Sheriff’s Department (WCSD) officers who were present at the melee and, repeatedly, they were denied that protection. WCSD Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar refused to provide even on or two law enforcement officers to defend American citizens who were clearly in imminent danger of physical injury.”

The image then provides a link to a YouTube video. The video begins and ends with a Barack Obama rally in Dearborn. The bulk of is dedicated to a scene at a “Muslim Arab Festival”. There is a group of protesters holding signs referring to the Lake of Fire, and a man in the background shouts, “God is not Allah! God is Jesus Christ!” One sign reads, “ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF BLOOD AND MURDER THE BLOOD FROM JESUS IS GIVEN AS A RANSOM FOR ALL MANKIND JOHN 3:16.” These are hardly “mild statements about their belief in Jesus Christ;” these are direct attacks against the festivalgoers. The group does indeed receive a lot of hostility from the crowd, and objects are thrown at them. This of course, is inexcusable. There is no justification for violence. It is relevant to note, however, that these violent “Muslims” appear to all be kids.

Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar responded to the scene stating, “It’s not your call, we’ve been very gentle and very very respectful to you and you are jeopardizing public safety. And you need to understand it’s gone overboard. We don’t have the coverage to protect you and if we have two officers who can protect you it would work great but it’s impossible to do so. Your attracting a crowd and your affecting public safety, you need to understand that.” He then reportedly left and refused to supply the protesters with any officers.[18] Mr. Jafaar was not the only law enforcement official present at the protest. I am not able to verify claims by Wayne County law enforcement that there are not enough officers to cover the protest.

I’m not going to make a judgment on whether or not Mr. Jaafar’s decision was appropriate. It is clear that these people are in danger, however, it is also clear that they are provoking the crowd.

But most importantly, the whole idea of a Muslim-run “no-go” zone has been previously debunked. It originated in 2015, during a segment on Fox News where “self-styled terrorism expert” Steve Emerson made the claim, “[‘No-go zones’] are sort of amorphous, they’re not contiguous necessarily, but they’re sort of safe havens and they’re places where the governments like France, Britain, Sweden, Germany don’t exercise any sovereignty. So you basically have zones where Shariah courts were set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where the police don’t go in, and where it’s basically a separate country almost, a country within a country.” Emerson later retracted this claim entirely.[19]

The second Reddit post claims “Christians win big lawsuit against Muslim thugs in Dearborn, Michigan!” This is apparently in reference to a civil-rights lawsuit brought by four men, who were arrested at the 2012 Arab American festival, against the city of Dearborn, the same event represented in the above video. The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), which refers to itself as a “national Judeo-Christian public interest law firm,” filed the motion on behalf of these “Christian evangelists” against the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, for what they perceive to be the law enforcement officer’s failure to uphold their Constitutional rights, claiming that they “violated the Christians’ rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment, and that the officials deprived the Christians of the equal protection of the law guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.”[20]

Notably, the AFLC website describes the event as, “a group of Christian evangelists whose mission is to share and express their Christian faith – were walking on the public sidewalks in Dearborn, Michigan during its annual Arab Festival, holding signs and banners and wearing t-shirts displaying Scripture quotes and Christian messages, such as ‘Trust Jesus’ and “Obey God, Repent,’” omitting any mention of the more provocative language employed by the “missionaries.”[21]

However, the outcome of this and other AFLC lawsuits against the city of Dearborn have indeed been successful. Specifically,

  • In 2009, the AFLC represented a Christian pastor who was prohibited from distributing Christian literature at the same Arab American festival. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the speech restriction violated the pastor’s First Amendment rights.
  • In 2010, again at the same festival, four “Christian missionaries” were arrested and charged with “breach of peace” for “preaching to Muslims.” The AFLC defended them in a criminal trial, with a jury eventually finding them “not guilty.”
  • In 2011, the AFLC represented a Christian pastor who wanted to protest “sharia and jihad” outside the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the US. Wayne County Prosecutors attempted to prevent the protest, but a Michigan Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed a previous injunction against the pastor and permitted the protest.[22]

I personally see no heroes in this story. The “Christian missionaries” were clearly not there to express their faith in Christ, or somehow benefit the Arab American community of Dearborn. They were there in protest of the event—to voice their opposition to Islam and their opposition to the followers of the Islamic faith. However, the actions of the counter protesters are even more egregious. I detest the attempt by some to spin this story as one of good vs. evil, with peaceful Christians attacks by a gang of Muslim thugs. Neither deserves our sympathy. More importantly, neither should be allowed to represent their entire faith community. Labeling this story as a fight between Christians and Muslims betrays both faiths.

While many of the “facts” of these two posts are credible, the inflammatory rhetoric aimed against the Arab and Muslim communities of Dearborn, Michigan, the willful withholding of all relevant information, and the mischaracterization of the “victims” in these cases as peaceful “missionaries” constitutes a violation of accurate reporting practices. Without supplementary contextual information related to the event, Redditors are vulnerable to embracing this racist narrative.

[1] 2015 US Census ACS 5-Year Survey data

[2] http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-23.pdf

[3] http://www.planetizen.com/node/11375

[4] http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-23.pdf; the percentage was reported at 29.85%, with the next highest at a mere 2.81% (Jersey City, NJ)

[5] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2014/12/12/new-projections-point-to-a-majority-minority-nation-in-2044/

[6] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2016/fringe-racists-conspiracy-theorists-make-bids-office; http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/16/politics/what-is-white-nationalism-trnd/index.html; http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/10/donald-trump-2016-white-nationalists-alt-right-214388; http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-nazi-leader-trump-real-opportunity-for-white-nationalists-20160807-story.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/world/americas/white-nationalism-explained.html

[7] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/

[8] http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/islamicagenda.asp; http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/homedepotmuslim.asp; http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-ramadan-curfew/; http://www.snopes.com/politics/satire/sharia.asp; http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-alcohol-ban/; http://www.snopes.com/small-michigan-town-syrian-refugees/; http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-michigan-pro-isis-rally/; http://www.snopes.com/muslims-rally-around-image-jesus-decapitated-head/;

[9] http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/islamicagenda.asp

[10] http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/homedepotmuslim.asp; the original claim also describes CAIR as a “terrorist organization”

[11] http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-ramadan-curfew/

[12] http://www.snopes.com/politics/satire/sharia.asp

[13] http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-isis-center/

[14] http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-alcohol-ban/

[15] http://www.snopes.com/small-michigan-town-syrian-refugees/

[16] http://www.snopes.com/dearborn-michigan-pro-isis-rally/

[17] http://www.snopes.com/muslims-rally-around-image-jesus-decapitated-head/

[18] http://theunitedwest.org/american-muslims-stone-christians/

[19] http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/nogozones.asp

[20] http://www.americanfreedomlawcenter.org/press-release/aflc-files-federal-civil-rights-lawsuit-in-defense-of-christians-stoned-by-muslims-at-arab-festival-in-dearborn-michigan/

[21] http://www.americanfreedomlawcenter.org/press-release/aflc-files-federal-civil-rights-lawsuit-in-defense-of-christians-stoned-by-muslims-at-arab-festival-in-dearborn-michigan/

[22] http://www.americanfreedomlawcenter.org/press-release/aflc-files-federal-civil-rights-lawsuit-in-defense-of-christians-stoned-by-muslims-at-arab-festival-in-dearborn-michigan/; these were not independently verified, but I have no reason to believe the AFLC is not telling the truth with these reports

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