The Arab American Festival in Dearborn has been canceled for the second year in a row, raising questions about the future of the three-day gathering in June that had become an annual tradition.
Detroit Free Press (h/t Rob E) The festival was canceled last year when the city and festival organizers, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, faced higher liability insurance costs because of growing tensions with some Christian missionaries that had resulted in arrests, accusations of harassment and lawsuits.
The Arab-American festival along Warren Avenue had become what organizers said was the biggest outdoor gathering of Arab Americans in the U.S., celebrating Arab culture in a city that’s 40% Arab. The 18-year-old event drew hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds.
After canceling the event last year, the chamber’s director, Fay Baydoun, said she hoped that the festival will “come back better and stronger” in 2014. But once again there will be no festival, which was often held during Father’s Day weekend. Baydoun said today, “We’re still in the exploratory stages of how to continue to move forward.”
Baydoun said the chamber did not approach the city about the festival this year. In 2013, the city had proposed moving the festival from Warren Avenue to a park, but the chamber was unable to organize in time and negotiate an affordable fee with the city.
Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr. said today that the festival, in addition to promoting Arab culture, was a fund-raiser for the chamber. He said there has been some discussion about holding a musical event at a city facility that would help the chamber raise money. “I’m very supportive of the chamber,” O’Reilly told the Free Press.
Tensions at the festival broke out in 2010 when a group of Christian missionaries arrived with video cameras to record their attempts to debate Muslims. Some were arrested for disturbing the peace, though later acquitted of most charges. Their arrests drew outrage from conservatives across the U.S.
Another Christian group filed a lawsuit against the city, saying the missionaries were restricted in where they could distribute their literature. In 2012, a separate group of Christians brought a pig’s head mounted on a pole with anti-Islam signs, resulting in some youth hurling bottles at them.
Christians arrested at Arab American Festival spent the night in jail, then were charged and tried for ‘breaching the peace’
Following the acquittals, Muise, along with AFLC Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi, filed a 96-page civil rights lawsuit against the City, its mayor, John B. O’Reilly, its chief of police, Ronald Haddad, 17 City police officers, and two executives from the American Arab Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Acts 17 Apologetics, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla, and Josh Hogg — the Christians whose rights were violated by the City officials.
Muise commented, “The judge’s ruling today is a huge victory for these Christians. It allows the civil rights claims for the most egregious constitutional violations to proceed against the City and its officials.
Paul Reskella, David Wood, Nageen Mayel, Dr. Nabeel Querishi, State Representative Tom McMillan, and Attorney Robert Muise
Michigan Federal Judge Denies City of Dearborn’s Request to Dismiss Civil Rights Claims Brought by Christians Who Were Arrested at 2010 Arab Festival