Osama Siblani and his Paper Incite Against Dearborn's Sunni Community

Osama Siblani, owner of the "Arab American" News

Hajj 2013 and the Alleged Mina Incident with the American Dearborn Shiite Pilgrims

Uncritical Coverage/ without Context in the “Arab American” News  is Sectarian Incitement

The Importance of the Proper Frame on Communal Relations


It was reported that during Hajj 2013 there was a sectarian attack against a group of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims from Dearborn. The alleged attackers were Lebanese Sunnis.

The incident was reported in a Dearborn community newspaper, Osama Siblani’s the “Arab American” News. This is an excerpt of the report from their website:

Local pilgrims assaulted by sectarian extremists at Hajj  By Ali Harb

‘ Arab American pilgrims from the Metro Detroit area where attacked and assaulted, for what appears to be sectarian reasons, on Wednesday, Oct. 16, while performing the rituals of Hajj in Mina, Saudi Arabia.

A known female community leader said that when the local group entered Tent Section 40, an area designated for American, European and Australian Muslims, a pilgrim in the group was asked about his sect, by a member of another group.

"When he said he was Shi'a, they called him Kafir (infidel) and attacked him," said the woman, who did not want her name to be revealed, for safety concerns, until she leaves Saudi Arabia next week.

Arab American pilgrims waiting for the bus outside the tent area.

The attackers, who are Australians of Lebanese descent, then hit three other men in the group and dragged one into a tent, while choking and kicking him.

"They took him into a woman's tent and had him in a chokehold. They were choking him out. When our guys got to him, he was blue," she said.

The attackers threatened the pilgrims to leave the tent area, while bringing up historic sectarian references.

"We will kill you Shi'a men and rape your women," they shouted, according to the source. The source said security officers at the tent area were aware of the attack, but stood by and did not do anything to stop it.

They were required to spend Thursday night praying in Mina, but since they feared for their lives, they will seek a religious accommodation for being unable to complete that ritual.’

The Incident in the Proper Context: Sunnis and Shiites in Dearborn

Framing, Context and Consequences

There is complete support for those whose Hajj experience was tarnished with the incident in Mina. However, one does not do anyone any good by framing this issue as a Sunni-Shia incident as if conflict and incivility are typical of the Hajj experience or of Sunni-Shia interactions. The use of code language, “Salafis” as a stand in for Sunni, does not change this reality.  I have heard many stories of sectarian incidents in the Dearborn area. What is in common with all these incidents, in mechanic shops, car parts’ shops, restaurants, bakeries, etc. is intolerance, lack of civility, and silliness of those who initiated the sectarian incidents. However, of the more than five sectarian incidents that I heard about in the Dearborn area, it was people from the same sect as the offending party that helped diffuse the situation and brought it to an end. Those are the people who jumped in to say one of the following: You cannot generalize, we are all Muslims, don’t talk like that, we are in America and let’s leave old country problems in the old country, people who respect themselves respect others, my mother is Sunni/Shia, etc. At the bottom of many of these incidents was a difficult person who wanted to pick a fight and the sectarian issue is the issue of the day.

Real tensions- The Importance of Context/Frame

Osama’s Inflammatory Coverage

There is no doubt that there are Shia-Sunni tensions in the Muslim world, the Arab world and in the United States. It is important to recognize tensions and work to diffuse them. It is important to put incidents in the proper context. Framing incidents involving individuals of different sectarian backgrounds as solely the result of sectarian differences and inter-communal tensions is unhelpful and misleading. The overwhelming number of inter-sectarian interactions are positive and decent. Sunnis who live in the Detroit area have reason for concern over the inflammatory coverage by Osama’s paper that did not put the Hajj incident in its proper context. Sunni Muslims are a minority in the Dearborn/Dearborn Heights area and fear a backlash from extremists incited by that paper’s inflammatory coverage.

The “Do as I say not as I do” Osama

Incidentally, Arab Americans have always complained that the American mainstream media incite against Muslim and Arab Americans by their coverage that does not provide the right frame and the proper context. Osama is one of those who always lectured over the issues of frame and context in the American media coverage of Arab and Muslim news. A stand alone violent incident reported without any background information and context, in this day and age, is misleading and inflammatory and irresponsible. This is precisely the issue with the coverage in Osama’s paper.

 Why privilege dysfunctional interactions as a true picture of inter-sectarian relations?

How many people went to Hajj 2013? How many were Shia? Is that incident representative of the Hajj experience? Is that incident representative of Sunni-Shia interactions in the Hajj and in other contexts?

Time to Ask for an End to Incitement

By not providing context and the proper frame, Osama’s paper has incited against the minority Sunnis in the Shia majority community of the Dearborn/Dearborn Heights area at a time of high tensions and stress. Sunni leaders and Imams should visit Osama’s paper and ask for an end to sectarian incitement. It is time.



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