Mich. residents: Trump’s Muslim ban ‘just not America’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

As the rhetoric builds following Donald Trump’s call for banning all Muslims entry to the United States, the Michigan Muslim community is listening with great interest, many saying they are buoyed by the swift condemnations.

“Many Muslims in our community are feeling a little on edge right now,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter, a day after Trump, a presidential candidate, called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

“People that I’ve spoken with out there are outraged about (Trump’s) comments and believe that he’s stoking up so much hatred in our society that he may provoke someone to commit violence against them,” Walid said.” This type of fascist language is going to do nothing but eventually provoke someone to attack and maybe even kill Muslims.”

Community leaders and activists on Tuesday applauded the widespread repudiation from across the political spectrum as a rejection of sentiments contrary to American principles.

Trump wants to block Muslim immigration

“What is shows me is that deep in the heart of Americans, is ... this feeling of liberty and justice for all — the openness of America,” said Najah Bazzy, founder and executive director of the humanitarian nonprofit Zaman International in Dearborn and Inkster. “I’m happy people are speaking out, because it shows the values we were founded on are still there.”

Trump’s campaign issued a statement that said the Republican’s proposal was “in response to a level of hatred among ‘large segments of the Muslim population’ toward Americans.”

World leaders Tuesday widely condemned the statements.

British Prime Minister David Cameron slammed Trump’s stance as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong,” while his French counterpart Manuel Valls said Trump “stoked hatred.” Muslims in the United States and around the world denounced the idea as unconstitutional or offensive. The U.N. human rights chief called the proposal “grossly irresponsible,” warning that it plays into the hands of extremist groups at the expense of ordinary Muslims who are also “eligible targets” of the extremists. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said it was concerned that the rhetoric was putting an “incredibly important” resettlement program for vulnerable Syrian refugees at risk.

Fatina Abdrabboh, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Michigan Chapter, ripped Trump and his comments, including statements calling for issuing special IDs for Muslims.

“Mr. Trump’s comments are more than rhetoric to our community — they are a symbol of hatred and racism that, should he rise to the presidency, foreshadow a grim future,” she said Tuesday.

Activist and Dearborn attorney Tarek Baydoun called Trump’s ideas “simply un-American.”

“He’s free to say what he wants, but what he’s saying flies in the face of our way of life as Americans,” said Baydoun, who is Muslim.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown December 7, 2015 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Walid said the rhetoric heightens already high tensions since the attacks in Paris and California. Last week, he said, an area mosque reported someone threatened to “kill the entire congregation.” Authorities are investigating.

In an Oval Office address Sunday, President Barack Obama warned against the dangers of singling out Muslims, saying it heightens rather than reduces the risk of extremism.

Kassem Allie, executive administrator of the Islamic Center of America, a Shia mosque in Dearborn, said Trump is trying to create an atmosphere of fear to further a racist and bigoted agenda. “What’s even more dangerous: He’s trampling the Constitution, and packaging it as a snake oil cure for our security concerns,” Allie said.

Jihad Alharash, a Muslim doctor from Syria who relocated to the U.S. about six years ago, said Trump’s proposed measure “is just not America” and unfairly targets an entire group.

That stance has consequences, said Dr. Iltefat Hamzavi, a co-founder and chairman with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank. “The United States has to recognize that there is an economic cost of not recognizing Muslims as a vital organ of this country,” he said. “We’re absolutely critical. We know that because we run critical industries.”

Condemnation moved to the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday, where Sen. Debbie Stabenow called Trump’s remarks “outrageous.”

Stabenow spoke of the “rich history” Muslims have created in Michigan and their contributions to the state’s economy, culture and quality of life. She recounted the hundreds of thousands of people from Muslim countries who arrived in southeast Michigan in the early part of last century to work in the first automobile factories, and praised the thousands of Muslim-Americans who have served in the armed forces.

“Take a walk through Arlington Cemetery, and you will see many graves bearing the crescent and star. How can anyone question the patriotism of those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country?” Stabenow said.

She said America’s culture of inclusion and tradition of welcoming people of different faiths is the nation’s greatest weapon in defeating the Islamic State, which “wants to see our country discriminate against Muslims, so they can use that as a recruiting tool all over social media,” she said. “That is not who we are.”

Steve Spreitzer, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, called Trump’s position “sad” and noted rising intolerance of Muslims — recalling how some in the area have recently faced insults at grocery stores and elsewhere. “It’s really hard to see somebody being treated negatively because of ignorance of others,” he said. “What the hope is ... that people of goodwill are going to say: ‘Enough already.’ ”

Jack O’Reilly, the mayor of Dearborn, which has the largest population of Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans in Metro Detroit, compared Trump’s rhetoric to the rising scrutiny of Muslims and presumed Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the worry it instilled in his community. He said when Trump and others denounce Muslims, it has a huge impact on his community.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about what happened as we were getting into World War II and how we treated our Japanese citizens. We just can’t keep making the same kind of mistakes,” the mayor said.

“This kind of simplistic solution to a complex problem is not worth us spending any time and energy on. We need to be having real dialogue. That’s what we’re doing in Dearborn: We’re talking about how we can discover people who are being radicalized if it’s happening and how we can get support from all communities in order to identify these people and try to intervene, try to deal with it ahead of time. That’s the task.”

Others looked for change on a personal level.

While waiting on an oil change Tuesday, Khadije Alaouie of Dearborn Heights overheard a woman discussing Trump’s position and how that encouraged her to vote for him. Alaouie, a soccer coach and mother of four, asked to talk to the woman about her concerns. She explained the meaning behind wearing an hijab, or Muslim woman’s head covering, and other aspects of Islam.

“By the end of the conversation, she was so grateful,” Alaouie said. “Muslim-Americans need to be more willing to engage in these types of conversations. .... It takes just that one conversation. I feel like we can all do that. It’s just a small, ripple effect.”

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke and wire services contributed.