Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Several friends have forwarded emails detailing the growth and influence of Arabs in Michigan.

The City of Dearborn, located just west of Detroit in Wayne County hosts the largest Arabic population of any city in the United States.

When I was a Circuit Judge  back in the early 1960’s I campaigned in Dearborn. It was a city of about 110,000. Orville Hubbard was the mayor. He was best known for sending birthday cards to all the voters and for trying to keep black folks from moving into his town.

There were a lot of Lebanese Christians living there in those days.

In recent years, immigrants from Iraq, Yemen and Palestine have swelled the Arab numbers. They are mostly Muslim.

Dearborn is the home of the Islamic Center of America, the largest Mosque in the United States.

There have been a few ugly incidents in Dearborn lately. In June, Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones and some of his followers held a rally in Dearborn and stirred up quite a bru-ha-ha. He wore a tee shirt emblazoned with the message, “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9-11.”

In 2009 Dearborn police arrested Christian evangelists who were trying to talk to people attending the Dearborn International Arab Festival. Videos showed that the police acted without good cause and even the ACLU came to the defense of the Christians.

Asserting that the camel has his nose in the tent, one email has a link to the web site of the Michigan Department of Human Services which provided a Food Assistance Date Change Letter written in Arabic. The purpose of the letter was to tell people getting food stamps that their stamps would arrive a day later.

The letter was also available in English and Spanish.

The email went on to claim that a phone number at the Department features a recording which prompts callers to “dial three for Arabic.”

A great many Americans are put off by recorded phone messages that begin with “dial one for English.”

But I sense that the real gripe here is that so many Arabs are getting food stamps in Michigan that it is necessary for the Department of Human Services to communicate with them in their native tongue.

After all, there are Poles in Hamtramck, Hungarians in Del Ray and Dutch in Grand Rapids. Don’t some of them get food stamps too?

Probably. But not enough of them who are poor or haven’t learned English.

Or be fortunate enough to have a kinsman serving as the Director of the Department of Human Services.

Ismael Ahmed was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1947. He came to Detroit, Michigan with his family when he was 6 years old. After high school, he journeyed to Vietnam and Korea and came back to the United States and became active in the United Auto Workers union to put himself through the University of Michigan-Dearborn. After graduation, he began helping out his neighborhood and his community and in 1973, Ahmed co-founded the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). He was appointed executive director in 1983 and was responsible for overall operations of the organization as well as the executive administration of the Arab American National Museum. The largest Arab-American human services organization in the United States, ACCESS has affiliates in 11 states and offers more than 90 programs with more than 900,000 client contacts annually.

In September, 2007, Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Ismael Ahmed Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, which administers the federal food stamp program.

Mr. Ahmed is now the Assistant Provost at the Dearborn Campus of the University of Michigan.

The new Governor, Republican Rick Snyder, has appointed former Chief Justice Maura Corrigan as Director of Human Services.

Maybe now the letters will be written in Gaelic.

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