Stands on High Alert
The Detroit News
Morris Richardson II / The Detroit News
The priorities of Imad Hamad, regional
director of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee, have changed
since the Sept. 11 attacks. Gaining clout has
taken a backseat to complaints of harassment
On Sept. 11, Imad Hamad was in a jet over Washington, D.C., when four hijacked planes struck the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and Pennsylvania.
The attacks immediately changed his world and that of the group he leads in Michigan: the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the preeminent civil rights group for Arabs.
Suddenly, Hamad -- who on the day of the attacks was on his way to a meeting at the group's national headquarters to talk about fighting racial profiling of Arabs at airports -- had to totally revise the Michigan chapter's priorities. The chapter is a central part of a network of civil rights and social service groups that have gone on high alert to help defend Metro Detroit's 220,000 Arab Americans since Sept. 11.
Instead of trying to expand the clout of Arab Americans, Hamad and the four other staffers at the Michigan chapter's offices in Dearborn and Southfield have spent their time addressing a flood of complaints about harassment and discrimination from Arabs and Muslims.
Normally, the group receives about 200 complaints a year. But in the six weeks since the attacks, the group has received 100 such calls, 10 of which have been referred to police for further investigation, Hamad said.
"They've been asking, 'Are we going to see massive arrests? Are we going to be the subject of hate crimes?' " Hamad said.
Many Arab Americans and Muslims are concerned about President Bush's signing on Friday of an anti-terrorism bill that gives law enforcement agencies more leeway to track the Internet use of suspected terrorists, secretly search their homes and tap their telephones. They fear federal investigators could abuse the law to harass innocent people.
"We have had a feeling of fear and wondering what will happen," Hamad said. "People feel they are going to be singled out."
Those who have turned to the group said Hamad and his staff have been helpful.
Ramzi Saab said the group is representing him in a dispute over his demotion. It came after the attacks, and he says he thinks it was because he is Arab American.
"They are very effective at addressing the issues," said Saab, 39, of Dearborn. "The ADC is trying to get people to understand that we are Americans and should be treated like anyone else."
Brighton resident Jamal Masri said he views the group as "our voice to the public and the government."
"If a mishap happens, this is one of the avenues we have to state our problems to the outside," said Masri, 44, a Lebanese American.
Hamad and his staff spend a great deal of their time convincing Arab Americans to report cases of racial profiling and discrimination. Many Arab Americans and Muslims who came to the United States from countries with oppressive regimes, such as Iraq and Syria, fear speaking out.
To help ease their fears, the ADC has partnered with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn and other groups to hold public hearings on the issue of racial and ethnic profiling of Arab Americans at airports, a practice they refer to as Flying While Arab.
The ADC also is addressing a potentially explosive issue: the relationship between Arab-American store and gas station owners and their predominantly black clientele in Detroit. The group has taken part in several meetings and negotiations to work out disputes and improve relationships.
Heaster Wheeler, executive director of the NAACP's Detroit Branch, says that the ADC and other Arab-American groups must make addressing relations between Arab merchants and black customers a top priority.
"They have to recognize that there are some potentially explosive issues that will divide our community relative to economic equity and economic respect," Wheeler said.
"The main issue is equal opportunity," Hamad said. "The current political climate should not be a reason for it to fade away. Under no circumstances should (the issue) be sugar-coated or put aside."
Nevertheless, Wheeler acknowledged the difficult challenges the ADC and other Arab civil rights and social service groups face in the wake of the terror attacks.
"ADC is the social justice and advocacy and NAACP for Arab Americans, Chaldeans and Muslims in Metro Detroit," he said. "They have a tremendous challenge and very difficult days ahead of them."
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