For the second year in a row, the Arab International Festival, a Dearborn tradition since 1995, has been cancelled due to tensions between Muslims and a small group of extremist Christians.
Dearborn is home to about 40,000 Arab-Americans and the three-day festival in June is billed as the largest outdoor gathering of Arab-Americans in the United States. It celebrates Arab culture and also serves as a fundraiser for the sponsoring American Arab Chamber of Commerce.
It was cancelled last year and again this year because tensions with some Christian missionaries caused insurance costs to spike, the Detroit Free Press reports. Fay Baydoun, the chamber’s director, said last year that she hoped the one-year hiatus would allow organizers to bring back the festival “better and stronger.”
In 2012, a group called the Bible Believers protested at the festival and claimed they weren’t adequately protected from assaults after they waved signs with anti-Islam slogans and a pig’s head mounted on a pole.
Two years before that, a group of Christian missionaries attempted to videotape debates with Muslims and were arrested, which drew sharp criticism from conservative Christian groups across the country. The charges were later dropped, but the city had to pay a $300,000 settlement to some of the missionaries who attended and issue an apology on the city web site.
Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr. told the Free Press he supports the Arab International Festival and thinks it’s important to celebrate Arab culture, as well as support a major fundraiser for the chamber. Alternative fundraising events, including a musical event at a city facility, are being considered.
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