WDET’s Ismael Ahmed On Long History of Muslim, Arab Discrimination in America

Jake Neher/WDET

Ismael Ahmed

How does it feel to be told you’re somehow less American than others because of your skin color, who you love, or the way you pray? For Arab Americans and Muslims, this is an unfortunate question that they’ve had to deal with over and over throughout American history.

Islamophobia and animosity against Arabs seemed to reach new peaks following 9/11. Now, these groups find themselves at the receiving end of negative rhetoric coming from the President of the United States. Of course, these tensions are not new in the 21st Century. They’ve been around since before the founding of our country.

What has the Arab American and Muslim American experience looked like over time? Has it always been difficult for these groups to gain acceptance in the United States?

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with WDET host Ismael Ahmed, founder of ACCESS and former director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, about the history of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the United States.

The people who came here who were Muslim and Arab were mainly from North Africa, and they were designated as black,” says Ahmed. “And, so, people coming from the Arab world, their first designation was black… Arab Americans have also been listed as Asian and were part of the Asian Exclusion Act, and that meant that they could not vote or own property… Then they were designated as white, which I still cannot figure out why.”

In the 1960s… there was a… sea change in terms of how Arabs and Muslims were looked at. And this happens all the time in American history — foreign policy affects the way that people are looked at,” he continues. ”And so, Arabs and Muslims became dangerous. That’s when kind of the terror view of them began to emerge. And this has gotten worse and worse as we’ve gotten more and more engaged in the Middle East.”

Ahmed also talks about the upcoming Rock for Refugees benefit concert for local organizations that support refugees, including Freedom House Detroit and ACCESS’ Take On Hate initiative. The concert takes place Sunday, April 2 at the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full interview.

Image credit: Ismael Ahmed

About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.


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