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The attacks of 9/11 fueled Islamophobia, and increased incidents of hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports on how the events of 9/11 were a catalyst for an Arab community in metropolitan Detroit to unite and combat stereotypes by building a stronger cultural identity through food.
Metropolitan Detroit has long been home to the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S. And while the community had already experienced prejudice, negative stereotypes and government surveillance; the attacks of 9/11 made things worse. Justice Department statistics point out that sparked acts of violence and hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans increased.
Two decades later, the community there is showing how the events of 9/11 were a catalyst to combat stereotypes by organizing and building a stronger cultural identity.
NewHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has the story.
The spices from Syria, the sweets from Lebanon and nuts from Turkey can transport anyone walking through the doors of Hashem's Roastery and Market.
Sights and smells commonly found in the markets of Istanbul, Doha or Tehran, all coming from a shop in Dearborn, Michigan.
This is one of three locations in the Detroit suburbs. The original started in 1959 is in Lebanon.
And while the story of this family owned market has similar beginnings to other small businesses, in the last 20 years it's taken on a greater meaning for COO Adam Hashem.
I'm sure my brothers probably feel the same way. We just thought this was a business and then when 9/11 happened, it was like, you know, something grew inside of me that said, hey, we have something beautiful here and we can do a lot of beautiful things with this.
Hashem's parents immigrated to Michigan from Lebanon in 1977. Born in 1983, he was a freshman in college on 9/11.
So before 9/11, I was just a normal, student, you know, living a normal life. when 9/11 happened, it was immediate prejudice and immediate judgment.
From stares on the street, to stops at the airport, Hashem's America has been different since 9/11….He says it's a country where he is regularly scrutinized, questioned and suspected.
But, Hashem says something else also happened.
With with every destruction comes a revitalization of something beautiful and new and that event that brought us all closer together for fear of being deported, fear of being judged or attacked. My mom wears a scarf on her head. So like fear of her going to the grocery store, being mugged because she's identified as a Muslim. These things have unified us.
For Hashem – this unity is coming through food – the market becoming a place where Dearborn's disparate, yet growing Arab population, can not only find staples from where they came, but new connections where they are.
We're not just showcasing food. We're using food to showcase culture and connecting those cultures. You know, we have Afghani pine nuts, but you will not find them in the country. It took me six months to fly them in here and like they had to pay off politicians and military check points ad they they didn't know they almost didn't want to do the deal anymore. So, you know, we have Iranian pistachios. You know, there's there's a lot of stuff that you have in this store that makes it unique and provides an experience./
It's not just in the market, its also through social media. Earlier this summer, Hashem teamed up with Abe Obeid on his project Halal Food Junkie – an Instagram account that reviews and promotes Halal food.
So you guys go to cities and basically kind of go and test out the food, the halal food, and kind of create a bit of a travel guide to halal eating in the US.
That's it. So we started in Dearborn, right. Because most of Dearborn is already our our base and already understand what we're doing and know us maybe on a personal level, we're seeing different cultures and different people and we're seeing different ethnicities, including white Americans, that come up to us and say, hey, what are you eating?
The Halal Food Junkie Instagram account has over 34,000 followers and the posts get tens of thousands of views..
Do you think you would be in this place, had the events of 20 years ago not happened?
Um, probably not. I don't have to do this. It is my responsibility and my duty because we're all brothers. we're building this network of people, traditional and nontraditional Arabs, that are helping unify again. So it all goes back to the same theme. And so because me and that food junkie are able to do to reach so many people and do these tours. We're going to reach a lot of people with this unifying idea and we're using good food to do it. This is part of journey, this is what we have to do.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
Sam Weber has covered everything from living on minimum wage to consumer finance as a shooter/producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior joining NH Weekend, he previously worked for Need to Know on PBS and in public radio. He’s an avid cyclist and Chicago Bulls fan.
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