Dearborn mayor proudly Arab but vows to represent everyone

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Updated 04 August 2022

Dearborn mayor proudly Arab but vows to represent everyone

Dearborn mayor proudly Arab but vows to represent everyone
  • Diversity of his administration key to equitable change, says Abdullah Hammoud
  • Budget deficit, low taxes, better services are city’s challenges

CHICAGO: Dearborn’s Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said Wednesday he is proud to be the city’s first Arab and Muslim chief executive but one of his priorities is to ensure everyone, regardless of race or religion, enjoys the same level of access and service.

A former member of the Michigan State House, Hammoud, 31, was elected on Nov. 2, 2021, and declared a “new era in Dearborn,” which has a large Arab and Muslim population.

Ranked as the sixth largest city in Michigan with more than 112,000 residents, Dearborn is 89 percent White, 4 percent Black, 2 percent Asian and has a smaller Hispanic population. Arabs, Hammoud said, are lumped into the “White” category because they are excluded from the Census count.

Hammoud said that his administration is focused on “change” and “accessibility” for everyone regardless of their racial, ethnic or religious background, noting Dearborn is the “capital of immigration.”

“I never ran to be the first. I ran to be the best. And that’s what I am trying to demonstrate. Regardless of the direction in which an individual prays. What matters is the direction in which they lead. And that is really what we want to uplift and highlight. And being the first is cool. Sure. I am not going to take away from the cool factor of it. Hopefully, what it does is to demonstrate to individuals from marginalized communities, traditionally communities of color, that hey you too can do this without changing your identity or trying to wash away who you are,” Hammoud told Arab News during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show broadcast in Detroit, Washington D.C. and in Chicago.

“But what is most important is not in fact being the first. What is most important is demonstrating that you can do as good a job as every one of your predecessors so that you are not the last. So that the next time that somebody with a different sounding name, who sounds a little bit different, looks a little bit different, maybe got a longer beard than others tries to run for office; or maybe has a hijab on their head; the people don’t look and say oh they can’t do the job because no one has ever done it who looks like them. In fact they can say hey that guy Abdullah did it. Maybe this person can too.”

He said one of his first actions was to build a municipal administration that was “diverse.” Although he named an Arab American, Zaineb Hussein, as his chief of staff immediately after being sworn in as mayor in January, many of his appointments have been non-Arab.

Hammoud said his policies are driven by the Arab tradition of “wasta,” which in English is often translated into “nepotism” and “personal connection.” He explained he uses “wasta” to put every Dearborn citizen in that category “to connect” and be involved in the city’s government.

“Accessibility again is key. And regardless of one’s ethnicity, I might be Arab and Muslim, but I am also reaching out to my non-Arab counterparts. I am reaching out to my non-Arab Muslim, my non-Arab Christian counterparts,” Hammoud said.

“And that is the beauty of Dearborn where this (is a) culturally diverse, demographically diverse and ethnically diverse community, and I am hoping that everybody feels like — you know in Arabic we have this term called ‘wasta’ which means ‘to connect.’ And prior to coming in everybody said if you don’t have a ‘wasta’ you can’t get anything done in the city. What I am trying to get people to feel is that with this administration, all residents have a ‘wasta.’ You are all connected. You are all able to walk in to be treated equitably and fairly, and whatever you need to get done, as long as it is within our confines. Our motto is how can we get to ‘yes.’ We don’t want to tell people ‘no’ because that has been the standard. How can we get to ‘yes’ working with residents?”

Hammoud said one of his challenges since becoming mayor is to overcome a significant budget deficit, and ensure municipal services continue without cutbacks or having to raise taxes.

“We ran on the concepts of change. But when we came in, because I have felt that as a lifelong resident, the city has stagnated to some degree. And coming in and opening up the financial books you realize that we have really struggled much more than I had anticipated,” Hammoud said.

“So I walked in inheriting a $28 million deficit, $22 million was structural, meaning ongoing year to year. And, it was very challenging (the) first six months to put forth a budget that reflected our priorities and our values as a city, but also ensured that we uplifted not only our residents but our employees and our retirees. I think we were successful in moving something that represented our values forward. But the work is only beginning. It is easy to pass a budget. That was the work of a legislator. It’s easy to vote up or down on a budget. What is difficult is to actually execute and build out the programming in that budget so that the outcome is reflective of its intentions.”

Hammoud said he is “trying to do more with less” because the city lost so much of its operating revenues. Taxes have gone down 16 or 17 percent, he said, and he has made a commitment to balance the city budget without levying new taxes on the voters and to work within the existing tax revenue collections.

“What we are also trying to do is sustain the level of services that we offer, though. So, what we have actually been able to do is challenge the way things have always been done, and improve the service quality that we have delivered as a city at a lower cost. And that is something to be very proud of,” Hammoud said.

“And now what we are looking at is expanding programming and investing in amenities that we currently have but we have not … improved in three, four or five decades. And so, we are prepared to hopefully make some announcements in the coming months about some investments that are coming. But to your point, it has been seven months and we are trying to pace ourselves. One of the caveats to being the first is that the expectation and the bar is higher. So that means the work that we are doing is at a much quicker pace than maybe some of our predecessors were used to but hopefully (we can) deliver to the expectations of our residents.”

Helping to provide for the neediest in the city, he said, can strengthen the community.

“Any administration should be reflective of the community that it serves, and we were able to accomplish that. As it pertains to what I have been able to bring, I think, more so than being Arab American but as somebody who grew up in a working poor family, I think it is that perspective of those who grew up in a marginalized part of the city. It is one of the things that influenced for example our decision to make pools free for children 13 and under,” Hammoud said.

“Because as somebody growing up, one of five siblings, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to the pool. And so we thought waiving the fee for children means that they have access to amenities and maybe have a better experience throughout their summer in their childhood. So I think it is that perspective, it’s that ability to empathize based on my life experiences which has been pretty great.”

He said safety was a major concern but that the biggest problem was motorists who were speeding, but that oftentimes police in the past focused more on issues associated with profiling than with actual hazardous driving patterns.

“We shifted our focus to solely focus on things impacting immediate public health or what we call hazardous moving violations. So we have seen a 700 percent uptick in citations issued on speeding and reckless driving,” Hammoud explained.

“So one, we are seeing a decrease in speeding and reckless driving in the city. But the second direct and indirect outcome of this is that there was a racial disparity present in the last decade. Nearly 60 percent of all citations issued were issued to Black and African American drivers, although the region is only 22 percent Black. And under this model, not only are we improving the safety in our neighborhoods based on what residents want, but we also have seen a significant plummet in that disproportionate effect that was present based on the data and that is also something that we’re proud of.”

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C. including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso
Updated 14 sec ago

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU: At least two soldiers and two civilian auxiliaries died in a “terrorist” attack on a patrol in eastern Burkina Faso, the army said Sunday.

A military unit and VDP volunteer auxiliaries were ambushed on Saturday between Sakoani and Sampieri in Tapoa province, bordering Niger and Benin, an army statement said.

“The fighting unfortunately cost the lives of two soldiers and two VDP,” it added.

However, a security source said the death toll was four soldiers and two volunteers.

A VDP official confirmed two dead from the volunteer ranks with “some still missing.”

Another security source said the militants also suffered losses, without giving a figure for the dead.

Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a January coup, ousting Burkina’s elected leader and promising to rein in the militants.

But the violence has raged on in neighboring countries stoked by insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Thousands have died and some two million been displaced by the fighting in landlocked Burkina since 2015.

Separately, Damiba defended his military takeover, though he acknowledged it was “perhaps reprehensible” and inconsistent with the UN’s values.

Damiba said the overthrow of the democratically elected president was “necessary and indispensable.”

“It was, above all, an issue of survival for our nation,” he said. That’s even if it was “perhaps reprehensible in terms of the principles held dear by the United Nations and the international community as a whole.”

Burkina Faso’s coup came in the wake of similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in West Africa. None of the juntas has committed to a date for new elections.


Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
Updated 25 September 2022

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
  • Viral clip showed Muslim students practicing Hindu hymn for Mahatma Gandhi birthday celebrations
  • Hymn is not controversial, BJP leader says

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri communities are raising concerns over alleged attempts to “undermine the Muslim identity” in the valley after a clip showing Muslim students in public schools reciting a Hindu hymn sparked controversy among religious and political leaders in the region.

New Delhi revoked the constitutional semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, its portion of the region contested by India and Pakistan, into two federally governed territories in 2019.

The abrogation of its autonomy, which was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, the detention of hundreds of local political leaders and the deployment of thousands of additional troops, has since compounded fears that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to alter the Muslim-majority region.

When Muslim students earlier this month were instructed to recite a Hindu hymn as part of preparations to celebrate the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2, a clip of the activity triggered new concerns among communities in the valley, such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema Jammu and Kashmir, a collective of 30 religious and educational bodies in the region.

“MMU appeals to the government and concerned authorities to immediately withdraw its orders and stop these practices in schools and educational institutions, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims and cause them grief,” they said in a statement.

The collective issued the statement after a meeting was held over the weekend “in the wake of unfortunate attempts being made to undermine the Muslim identity of Kashmir.”

Mohd Ashraf Rather, chief education officer of the region’s Kulgam district, told Arab News on Sunday that the hymn was practiced in school “because it is an all-faith prayer” and had been part of a “one-day activity” ahead of Gandhi’s birthday celebrations.

“This is the same hymn that Mahatma Gandhi used to sing and the prayer invokes both Ishwar (Hindu address to God) and Allah,” Rather said.

The Hindu hymn controversy appears to be part of a “deliberate” plan, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who has been held under house arrest since August 2019.

“It is becoming clear that there seems to be a deliberate plan to push our young generation through state-run educational institutions towards apostasy, to wean them away from Islamic beliefs and identity, to speed their so-called ‘integration’ with the Hindu majoritarian idea of India,” Farooq told Arab News.

Though recitations of Hindu hymns are not something new in Kashmir, the questions raised in the valley were triggered by concerns over the intention of the ruling BJP party, the region’s political leader Ghulam Mir of the Apni Party, told Arab News.

“Prayers can be performed in any language but the important thing is to look at the intention. If the intention is an ulterior motive, then anyone can raise an objection,” Mir said.

“Earlier also people used to recite Hindu hymns, but that time (the) intention was different, but the majoritarian politics of the BJP looks like (being) against Muslims — their profile is anti-Muslim so whatever they do, Muslims feel it’s against them.”

Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of Kashmir’s oldest political party, National Conference, urged the government to provide an explanation.

“The government needs to come out with clarification. What is the intent behind it?” Dar told Arab News.

“There is a serious attempt to hurt the sentiments of the majority community of Kashmir. There is an attempt to provoke the people,” he added.

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a senior leader and convenor of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a political alliance between several regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir campaigning to restore its special autonomous status — stressed the importance of secular education in Kashmir.

“Any encroachment compromising the secular spirit of the constitution is dangerous,” Tarigami said. “Whatever is happening in Kashmir is part of the program to ‘Hindunize’ education and this will provoke and promote other varieties of extremism.”

Dr. Hina Bhat, a local leader and spokesperson for the BJP based in Srinagar, told Arab News the hymn is not controversial.

“What is controversial about the hymns?” Bhat asked. “They should stop politicizing the issue where kids are not allowed to grow in an open space.”

Kapil Kak, former Indian air marshal and member of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, said “there should be no changes” in the patterns of prayers and school songs in Kashmir.

“The issue can turn into a potential trouble spot. Kashmiris have been very patient; they have gone through multiple types of assaults on their identity for the last three years but they have borne it.”

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Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
Updated 25 September 2022

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
  • Despite warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing celebrated in the streets of Uman
  • Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman in which he promised he would ‘save (worshippers) from hell’ if they came to visit his tomb

UMAN, Ukraine: Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in the Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage, officials said Sunday, despite authorities asking them to skip the trip because of the war.
Every year, Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from across the world to visit the tomb of one of the main figures of Hasidic judaism for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The central Ukrainian city of Uman is relatively far from the frontline, but Ukrainian and Israeli authorities urged worshippers to skip the celebrations taking place between September 25 and 27 this year.
But despite the warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing gathered in Uman, celebrating in the streets.
“This is the most important day of the year to be able to connect with God. And this a great place to do it,” one pilgrim, Aaron Allen, told AFP.
Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman, the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement who died in the city in 1810, in which he promised he would “save (worshippers) from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashana.
“There were sirens, but coming from Israel we are used to sirens, we know what to do. We feel pretty safe,” said Allen, a 48-year-old doctor from Yad Binyamin.
Police set up a wide perimeter to access the area around the grave, checking IDs and only letting through residents and Hasidim.
It was forbidden to sell not only alcohol, fireworks and firecrackers, but even toy guns during the festivities in Uman, regional police spokeswoman Zoya Vovk told AFP.
A curfew between 11 p.m. (20 GMT) and 5 am is also in place.
Despite the restrictions, the shrine housing the tomb was buzzing with celebrations on Sunday.
Pilgrims — only men and boys — were praying, pressed against the white walls and columns of the burial place.
Outside the temple, a simultaneous prayer from hundreds of pilgrims resonated.
Police will not release the exact number of pilgrims until the end of the festivities for fear of attacks from Russia.
“We understand that there is a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the enemy is monitoring information,” Zoya Vovk told AFP.
“The only thing I can say is tens of thousands (of pilgrims have already arrived),” she added, however.
The United Jewish Community of Ukraine NGO said that more than 23,000 pilgrims had arrived in Uman.
Uman in central Ukraine has been hit several times by Russian strikes since the invasion began on February 24.


Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.


Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
Updated 25 September 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
  • The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone

KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.