Local clergy, activists urge peace, saying Trump's actions provoke war

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Dearborn Heights — Local clergy and activists appealed to President Donald Trump to seek peace with Iran and pleaded for respect for local residents of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims during a time of international tension.

“This is a difficult time,” said Shireen Smalley of Ann Arbor and the Michigan chapter of the National Iranian-American Council, speaking with a group of about a dozen leaders at the Islamic House of Wisdom, a mosque, on Thursday.

“We find ourselves, not just Iranian-Americans, but Iranians, Americans, Iraqis, all afraid of a possible war, which would be devastating for all our communities,” Smalley said.

Imam Mohammed Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom takes a stand with fellow leaders of the Iranian-American community during a news conference Thursday.

Many people of Iranian descent living in the United States believed that when the country signed a nuclear weapons agreement in 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with Iran that the relationship might grow, she said.

Perhaps, finally, families could reunite, necessary medicines would become more widely available in Iran, letters and other communication would flow freely, and direct airline flights might even be restored, she said.

“In the space of four short years, that dream was destroyed,” Smalley said.

Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, takes a stand with fellow leaders of the Iranian-American community during a news conference and speaks about the recent events in the Middle East and the possibility of war.

She listed the elements of the so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which is the stated policy of the Trump Administration.

“I want to emphasize that this has happened in such a short period of time,” she said, “so that we can make accountable and hold those responsible who are responsible for bringing us to this point in history.”

Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, and Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, both said every time tensions heighten in the Middle East, local residents of Middle Eastern ties and Muslims bear considerable strain.

“Any military adventure in the Middle East affects the Muslim-American community here in the United States,” said Beydoun, who travels frequently to Lebanon and the Middle East. “Since 9/11, we have seen it play over and over again in this country.

“The events that go on over there affects our civil rights and become reasons for discrimination.”

Nationally, 60 Iranian-Americans and legal permanent residents were detained last weekend, as they re-entered the country, after years, sometimes several decades, of traveling without overbearing scrutiny, Walid said.

“Iranian-Americans were questioned about their religious beliefs, their political ideas and asked for the first and last names of their family members,” he said.

Speakers on Thursday were critical of the policies and tactics of the Trump administration, saying they had needlessly provoked an international confrontation.

“Yesterday, I listened to the speech of our commander in chief, who is known to be a commander in contradictions,” said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, the spiritual leader of the mosque and an Iranian-American.

“Gladly, he backed off from his previous statements, such as threatening Iran with war crimes by attacking Iran cultural sites. He said we have a great military, but it doesn’t mean we have to use it.”

Osama Siblani, editor of the Arab American News, said he would temper his harsh criticism of Trump “because I am in a house of worship.”

He still accused Trump of being “a lying president heading a lying administration.”

“According to CNN, which has compiled the lies of Donald Trump in 2019, there are 2,700 false things and the tally is not over for Mr. Trump,” Siblani said. “How can you believe a president like this?

“Most importantly: What is he doing to the presidency? And the ultimate most important thing is: What is he doing to the public?”

Erik Shelley of Michigan United, a nonprofit that helped organize the event, added: “although war in Iran is an international issue, it will certainly affect our lives here in Michigan.

“Besides the human cost, there is the spiritual cost, as well.”

Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel, the pastor of Central United Methodist Church of Detroit, said war is incompatible with Christianity.

“If we are to live our mission of transforming the world, we must prioritize collaboration among nations, work to reduce the use and need for weapons and foster just, equitable and durable solutions to the root causes of conflict," Zundel said.

“As people of faith, we renounced the escalation of violence and call on our government to work towards lasting peace with Iran.”