By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — For the first time in almost 20 years there will be no Arab International Festival.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce announced the postponement May 17, just under one month before the scheduled start of the event June 14.
Fay Beydoun, AACC executive director and director of the AIF, said postponing the event would allow the organizers to “explore all opportunities for the upcoming year.”
Beydoun added that “with the move to a new location, Ford Woods Park, we needed more time to ensure we provide a quality event that the community has come to expect from us.”
The event has been held on Warren Avenue between Schaefer and Wyoming for the last eight years but the city of Dearborn was working with the AACC to move the location from the open street to the more enclosed Ford Woods.
The postponement also comes after four years of religious tension at the event.
In 2009, a Christian missionary was removed from the festival for distributing religious leaflets. The following year four Christian missionaries were arrested at the festival. They were cleared of all charges after their trial.
At the 2012 AIF, a group called the Bible Believers attended the event carrying signs calling the prophet Mohammed a “pedophile” and a pig’s head on a pike. A confrontation between them and festival attendees who threw objects at them became a viral video on the Internet.
All of these cases resulted in litigation against either the city or the AACC or both.
Controversial Christian pastor Terry Jones from the group Stand Up America stated that he was planning on attending the 2013 AIF. He was going to bring other Stand Up members as well as pastor Warren Sapp, Ruben Israel of Bible Believers, David Grisham of Repent Amarillo and Rabbi Nachum Shifren of the California Security Council.
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said the city remains supportive of event and the AACC, but that there have been increased tensions at the last few festivals.
“We went through the ’90s and ’00s with no issues at all,” O’Reilly said. “All of a sudden around 2009 it became a focal point for some individuals to use the festival as a platform for their message, which was not directly related to what the festival was about. That’s an element that’s going to be there now.”
Beydoun said the annual event has been used to enhance the economic vitality of the area, support cultural diversity and promote the businesses along Warren.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])