Obama made many references to Muslims in America during his Cairo speech, sparking comments and reflections in all forms of media. One comment made in a forum on Arab American studies pointed to a video on America.gov, a U.S. State Department site, about Dearborn, Michigan.
The short video is called “Diversity: Dearborn, Arab Capital of America.” Dearborn is home to one of the most highly visible Arab communities in America. This vibrant community has mosques, Islamic schools, a new museum, Arab festivals, ethnic business and shopping districts, village clubs, and more. This is the place where journalists come to capture vivid images and feature stories about Arabs. The State Department’s short video gives you a good glimpse.
But is Dearborn really the Arab capital of America? In terms of sheer numbers, you might say it is: Over 30% of the residents of Dearborn are Arab. No other city can claim that.
But almost all Arab residents in Dearborn are Muslim, which means Dearborn is not representative of Arabs in America. Most Arabs in America are Christians: Chaldeans (Iraqi Catholics), Antiochians, Melkites, Maronites and more.
The three-county Detroit region has a higher percentage of Muslim Arabs than the national average, as we learned in an intensive survey of Arab Americans that I led a few years ago. But it is still less than half: 42% of Arab Americans in the three-county region are Muslim; 58% are Christians. Only 5% of Arab Christians live in Dearborn.
The government’s video is a positive portrayal of the Dearborn community, but it makes a common mistake: It conflates Arab and Muslim. This is not a small mistake, if we want an accurate understanding of America and its ethnic-religious communities.
So, here are two facts: Most Muslims in America (and in the world) are not Arab. Most Arabs in America are Christians.
When I give talks based on our study, I find that these facts are startling revelations to most audiences. How about you?
(Our book on Arab Americans, “Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit after 9/11,” will be available in August.)
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