Arab Americans slam Trump, promote cooperation at town hall

The rise of Donald Trump is permitting bigoted individuals to turn violent, like the "goof" who fatally shot Khaled Jabara in Tulsa, Arab American Vietnam veteran Ron Amen said at a town hall meeting on Wednesday 24th August. Arab American leaders slammed the Republican presidential nominee at the event, which was hosted and broadcast by Detroit 910AM Radio Superstation at the Arab American National Museum. 

Amen, a lifelong activist, said Trump managed to ride a wave of hatred with his "off the cuff" remarks about Muslims and other groups. Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson moderated the discussion. For the first half of the meeting, he was joined by the chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League, Nasser Baydoun, ACRL Director Rula Aoun and The AANews publisher Osama Siblani. 

After proposing banning Muslims from entering the United States, Trump has softened his rhetoric, saying he would pause immigration from countries "compromised by terrorism." Panelists agreed that it is too late for Trump to get the Arab and Muslim vote. Siblani said Trump is laying the groundwork for taking a less extreme approach than his proposals during the primaries. 

"You're going to see Donald Trump walking back faster than Michael Jackson," the publisher said. "At the end of the day, he can walk back as much as he could, but he's not going to get my vote or anybody's vote in this community." However, Siblani warned the Hillary Clinton campaign not to take Arab Americans' support for granted. 

He said the community is suffering from several civil rights issues, including harassment at airports and border crossings. Siblani added that a Trump presidency is a real possibility. He said a few months ago no one thought that the New York billionaire would win the Republican nomination, just like most observers today think he will not be elected in November. Aoun said U.S. foreign policy has contributed to the rise of terrorist groups. 

She cited the invasion of Iraq, destabilization of Syria and intervention in Libya as conflicts that created ripe environments for extremist groups. In response to a question from the audience, Beydoun stressed the importance of improving the relationships with the African American community. He called for building alliances among marginalized groups and people of color to face racism and discrimination. 

Beydoun said Arab-Black relations were not the best in the past because of tensions between store owners and customers in Detroit, but tangible steps, such as hiring people from the community, are improving the situation. Abdullah Hammoud, the Democratic nominee for Dearborn's State House seat, and Ismael Ahmed, a veteran organizer and candidate for the Michigan Board of Education, joined the conversation later. 

Hammoud said he received hate mail in February, when his campaign literature was returned with racial slurs. However, he said the bigotry does not represent the city, as evidenced by his victory on Aug. 2. "Muslim Americans, Arab Americans may be fearful in 2016, but I believe hope is a stronger emotion than fear," Hammoud said, adding the community is hopeful about stopping a Trump presidency. 

Ahmed, who was the director of the Michigan Department of Human Services during Gov. Jennifer Granholm's second term, said he is witnessing growing coalitions of people pushing against hate. "We're finally getting it, all of us," he said. "We have to share and work together and change things together. I'm optimistic as well, but also know this is a dark time." 

He said attacks against immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Arab Americans, workers and women are coming from right wingers who are being embraced by the Republican Party. "I call it the dark," he said of the right wing. "We really need to stand up to the dark, as we have in the past, and assure that there is change and it's positive change."

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