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NOLAN FINLEY

Finley: Trump gives hope to Muslim advocate

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Donald Trump is Osama Siblani’s new hero.

That may sound crazy, since Siblani is a fervent advocate for Muslim rights and President Trump advocates trampling some of those liberties.

But Siblani sees Trump as a godsend.

“We woke up one day and half the country was with us because of Trump,” says Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn. “He actually did something good for us.”

The new president’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries and his campaign rants about Muslim immigrants have given the anti-Trump forces a rallying point.

Suddenly, civil libertarians are sprouting everywhere to protest what they see as religious persecution. Muslims were solemnly marched on stage during the recent Grammy awards as a display of solidarity with immigrants.

What Siblani wonders is where these new-found sympathizers were for the past eight years, when his community was shouting about the harsh treatment of Muslims by the Barack Obama administration.

“Nobody was listening,” he says. “Harassment and detainment of Muslims at the border and in airports were the highest under Obama.

“We talked about the issue constantly during the Obama years. But Democrats were on his side. The media was on his side. Hollywood certainly was not in our corner. And Republicans didn’t care. We didn’t see anyone standing for us in a meaningful way.

“Now they are.”

Give Donald Trump the credit. If he’s against something, his opponents will come out for it en mass.

Siblani is hoping the sudden outrage will last beyond the immigration ban and result in some long-sought relief for Muslim and Arab Americans.

The terror watch list expanded during Obama’s tenure, and now includes more than 40,000 U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The majority are Arabs and/or Muslims.

Included in their ranks are small children, respected businesspeople, those who had peripheral and inadvertent contact with a suspected terrorist and a whole lot of unfortunate folks who share a name with a bad hombre.

Getting on the list is easier than getting off. And being tagged as a person to watch has serious consequences.

“I have family members on the list,” Siblani says. “Friends who are millionaires who cannot fly to do business anywhere. I’m talking about U.S. citizens who are harassed, detained for hours at airports, humiliated, have their phones taken away and scanned.”

Repeated meetings with Obama cabinet officers, and even one with the president himself, brought no relief.

“They told us there was nothing they can do, to just keep complaining,” he says. “Obama sent me thank-you letters and did nothing.”

But the former president could have done something, Siblani contends.

“This was an executive branch decision,” he says. “He could have issued an executive order.”

That’s what Trump did. And now Siblani finally has hope the resulting outrage will bring the relief he’s pursued for so long.

nfinley@detroitnews.com