By DANIEL HERATY
DEARBORN – Civil rights and immigration reform were among the topics of discussion at a three-day conference held in the city last weekend.
The Arab American National Leadership Conference, normally held in October of every election year, was instead held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at the DoubleTree Dearborn-Detroit and hosted by the Arab American Institute and the National Network for Arab American Communities.
Executive Director of Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services Hassan Jaber said the decision to move the event to this year was consciously made by the hosting committee to get a head start on the election in 2012.
Amal Berry-Brown, diversity education manager and National Arab, Chaldean and Iranian affairs manager for Comerica Bank, said the conference took on a new approach from years past when the goal was to encourage participants to vote.
“This year the focus was on change,” she said, “(It) focused more on support of issues that affect the community and promoting civil rights,” she said.
She said the participants were passionate about different topics, such as civil rights and Islamophobia, a term coined in the 1980s to describe fear of Muslims. Jaber said eliminating that fear was an emotional topic.
“I think that the issue of Islamophobia and the misinformation … has been a blunt attack on Islam and Muslims,” he said. “People are upset about continuing to see Islam and Muslims as corrupt, questioning loyalty and … considering Muslims as a threat.”
Jaber said other issues included the unrest in Syria, where many protesters are calling for an end to the rule by president Bashar Al-Assad, and immigration reform were issues that drew the most emotional reactions from those in attendance. He said the NNAAC has long promoted change on immigration reform. He said the consensus was that there needs to be a balanced policy in place and the country needs to make sure there is a solution for undocumented workers.
“If they haven’t committed any crimes, there should be a process to allow them to work legally,” he said, “Especially if they already have jobs here. This is not a state issue, but a federal issue.”
Jaber said he was impressed with the level of commitment shown by those at the conference. He said the fact that the NNAAC and the AAI came together in the way they did to make the conference work was “significant.”
“Many young people were there, which tells us that there is a new generation of leadership coming to the fold,” he said. “It was good for Arab American leaders to focus on a nationwide agenda for Arab Americans.” He also said the conference was a success, but more people need to be involved and patient.
“It seems the only people who are engaged are those on the extremes,” he said. “We can’t lose our democracy by being upset with the process. It’s the essence of being a democracy.”
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected].)