Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) 2011 Spring Reception and Conversation

May 19, 2011 by  


By Adil James, TMO

Immigrants and Urban America

Dearborn–May 14–The ISPU’s event this past Saturday really amounted to a celebration of Arab culture.  The venue for the event, the food, the main speakers (Fatima Shama and Rashida Tlaib) all tended to create the impression of a family reunion of Arabs more than an Islamic event or an intellectual event.

About 100 people attended this ISPU event in Dearborn on Saturday at the Arab American museum.  The evening’s speeches were preceded by a guided tour of the museum–the tour guide described many of the exhibits at the museum–having a tour guide did add another dimension to the exhibits, even to me although I have toured the museum more than once.

Following the guided tour there was a buffet table filled with Arabic food and then there were speeches in the museum’s auditorium basement.

The two people present with the most political clout were Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-12-MI), one of the most prominent Muslim women in the nation as the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan legislature, and the keynote speaker Fatima Shama, New York City’s Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The rise of Fatima Shama was attributable to her outspokenness and firm convictions, which was shown by the story she told the ISPU audience Saturday.

After 9/11, seeing the need to attenuate the hatred of non-Muslims for Muslims and Arabs, Shama quit her job in order to reach out full time to people she didn’t know (helping to form a group called Muslims Against Terrorism), trying to give a face to a religion caricatured by the actions of 9/11–to the very people most scarred by those horrific events, New Yorkers.  She had served in community service organizations (New York’s Arab American Family Support Center, similar to ACCESS), and like Ms. Tlaib had become a lawyer. 

After MAT, she began working for Mayor Bloomberg, and spoke out in favor of Palestinians and Arabs in ways she thought would cost her her job.  But her outspokenness earned Bloomberg’s respect and she rose in prominence to her present position. Ms. Shama has since argued in favor of allowing Muslim holidays in New York schools, has served as Mayor Bloomberg’s liaison with immigrant communities of Muslims, granting him a level of sensitivity to Arab concerns over, for example, Israel and Palestine.  She speaks very respectfully of Bloomberg’s own commitment to his ideals, for example his support for Park51.

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