Civil war, displacement from Israeli settlement, oppressive regimes, better economic chance. These were some of the factors that made Arabs move to the United States, to the land of the free. The largest Arab-American population is in California, but they do have quite significant number in Dearborn, Michigan. Most of the Arabs who live there came from the Southern Lebanon, who mostly moved because of the civil war. Southern Lebanon is the place where Hezbollah emerged, as a response toward Shabra and Shatilla massacre, as well as to represent the interest of Syiah community. Thus, according to Pak Dawud Walid from the Council of Islamic Relations, this community has a strong sympathy toward Hezbollah. As consequences, Arabs community in Dearborn has been under the FBI surveillance for years, and its name was also mentioned by right wing politicians to identify a threat toward American community. For example, as Pak Dawud mentioned, a senator from this state (sorry I just couldn’t remember her name or her state) said something like, “We don’t want to make America turns into Dearborn with its syariah law,” which is very provocative and untrue, since the Arab Moslems community never asked for the appliance of syariah law. The community might be attached with Hezbollah and Middle East ummah, but they also have the attachment toward America. I think we have to consider their purpose of moving to United States at the first place, they want a better living, which is basically given by America (regardless of some unpleasant treatments due to prejudices and all). So, they aren’t only ‘owe’ Hezbollah for defending them against Israeli and Lebanon government discrimination, but they also ‘owe’ United States for giving them the safe haven. Interestingly, different from what we found in the perspective of Moslem Student Association, I see that the issue of divided loyalty is more likely to be found within Arab American community.
When we went to the Arab-American museum, we found interesting stories, about Arab-American who served as an army. One of them was Rajai Hakki. He was a student when September eleven happened. He witnessed the raise of islamophobia since then. So he decided to drop out of college, and joined the army. His main motivation was to prove that as an arab moslem he didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, and that he also had love toward the country. So he went to Afghanistan, he was put at the front line since he looked Arabic and able to speak Arabic. He could knock the door of the suspect and asked them to get out. The Afghan saw him as a betrayer, as an Arab who fought his kind. And he felt that way too, he felt guilty. After he finished his service, he went back to his country in the Middle East, tried to make connection to his ascendant, and lives among them. There are of course many others who died in the middle of the war.
We flew to Allentown, Pennsylvania in Friday. The area is relatively different with Michigan. It is hilly, compare to the flat Michigan. It is less diverse, although they have a quite large number of Hispanic there. We were welcomed energetically by Lehigh staffs- Jen, Stacy and Debra. Lehigh University is located in Bethlehem. The city was built by a group Moravians, which is sort of a Christian sect came from Europe. They said that If we had the chance to go around the town later on, we’ll find that many of the streets name are taken from the Bible too. We had orientation, and Debra did it very well. She told us her last years experience with the participants and how it influenced her a lot. She witnessed the participants met as strangers, then got to know each other, and finally learned from each other. She told us that we are part of something bigger than we thought we were. I believed her. And that just made me a lot more excited for Pennsylvania, New York, and DC.
And I hope you remember Richardsons family, I wrote about them here on blog. I met them this evening. I still couldn’t believe it. When I saw them on driveway, I still couldn’t believe it. All of them came to visit me- Mom, Dad, Amanda, Katie, Mary and Danny. We spent around 4 hours together. Catch up stories, took tons of pictures, and my siblings made fun of me just as usual. Manda works as a counselor for sexual abuse victims, Katie works at Macy’s and she plans to go to school, Mary just graduated from high school and she’ll go to college up near Burlington this year, and Danny grew up so tall and gorgeous and he is doing so well in school. There were a lot of tears, both happiness and I guess sadness when they had to leave. Even Katie cried, she always became the tough one. It was the most beautiful evening. I’m still really sad that I couldn’t go home in Vermont to see everyone else, but I guess I received my visa for 5 years. So I make myself not to worry about it because I’ll be home next year Insya Allah.
I’ll write more stories. Cheers!
Ps: And I need to extend my gratitude toward University of Michigan, especially for Kate and Kharis who took us everywhere, feed us well and became nice discussion partners as well. Thank you so much!