Tag Archives: Detroit

Muslims Should Live, Not Die, in America

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Plymouth, Michigan, Feb. 11 – We don’t yet know what effects the Feb. 10 murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina will have on Muslims around America or elsewhere, or on the rest of us. For starters, it will anger many Muslims. It already has, and it should. No matter what wrong things some Muslims do, that doesn’t mean that other Muslims who have done nothing wrong deserve to be killed. If you want to know what Muslims are thinking and saying – and you should – follow the #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter hashtags on Twitter.

Unfortunately, it’s all too predictable that some Muslims, as tragically disturbed and misguided as Chapel Hill killer Craig Stephen Hicks clearly is, will take matters into their own hands. That’s one thing I’m afraid of. But I’m also afraid of the opposite: that Muslim communities around the United States will be terrorized into cowering timidity.

It’s not for me to tell them that they should do otherwise. Each of us makes a perpetual series of moment-by-moment calculations about how to live in the world both safely and with integrity, and acting with public courage can be physically dangerous. And what we know about the backgrounds and aspirations of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha underscores a widespread and largely admirable fact about American Muslims: they want to get along, pursue middle-class professions, raise families, live in suburbs, make themselves useful to society, help the needy. Through my writing and speaking I know many American Muslims, including many students very much like the three who were killed, and my sense is that most of them would strongly prefer not to be doing things like marching in the streets.

But the parallel that was promptly rendered explicit by the #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag is too obvious to ignore. As DeRay Mckesson, one of the Ferguson movement’s most vocal leaders, told a writer for Salon magazine, “We still protest every day, because we know that not only will our silence not save us, our surrender won’t save us, a video camera won’t save us. It is not that we are willing to die, it’s that we are unwilling to live in an America where blackness equals death.” What implications Muslims might draw for their own public activities in American society is, of course, for them to decide. But one thing I know is that, in America, if you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else is gonna toot it for you.

Some Muslims that I know personally are already doing some of what needs to be done. My Pakistani-American friend Nadeem Iqbal, for example, arrived to study at – of all places – North Carolina State University in 1982, and stayed. Nadeem organizes an annual public Eid festival in the town of Cary, very near Chapel Hill. “The main motive,” Nadeem told me, “was that we live in America, we need to celebrate our religious festivals in this new environment, and we have to add that flavoring. We are celebrating it as an American holiday event.”

When I asked Nadeem why he felt such work was important, he told me:

My children and their children are going to live in this country, and they should be treated fairly. But the only way it can happen is for them and us to become part of the greater fabric. I’m not talking about assimilation, but about being able to participate in American society on an equal basis, without fear or compulsion. … Doing religious stuff is important from the religious point of view and the social point of view, but getting involved in the larger society is equally important.

A parallel challenge and opportunity exists for Americans who, like me, grew up in all-white or white-dominated small towns or suburbs. My friend Sarah Derry grew up in the town of Hubbell, pop. 1,105, in Houghton County in a remote part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “It’s just in the wake of the old mining ruins,” she told me. “When they talk about small towns in America, this is one of them. It’s a pretty conservative place.”

A couple of years ago, when Sarah’s father was staying with her for a few months in a Detroit suburb, she took him to the Shatila Bakery, a well-known establishment in the heavily Arab-American city of Dearborn. “I found out about it from a guy I work with who’s Iraqi,” she told me. “My father is not the most open-minded person. As we were driving down there I told him, ‘Poppy, there’s a lot of Middle Eastern people there. They’ll be wearing a lot of headscarves, so don’t act all shocked.'”

An Arab man held the door open for Sarah’s father, and “they had a chuckle” because the man explained that it’s a tradition to show respect for elders. “We got our desserts and sat down,” Sarah remembers. “And when we left Poppy said, ‘Well, they seemed pretty nice. They seemed just like normal people.'”

While Sarah was glad to witness this “ah-ha” moment in her father’s life, she was also impressed that her teenage son was unimpressed, as if his grandfather’s insight were merely a statement of the obvious. “I’m glad I’m raising Erik in a place where there’s different races and cultures, because that’s the way the world is,” Sarah told me. “I want him to be a functioning member of society.”

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After Ferguson: driving and speaking around the Midwest

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Home Free: An American Road Trip by Ethan CaseyEthan Casey, author of Home Free: An American Road Trip, is planning a follow-up trip through the Midwest in the fall of 2015 to document the attitudes, aspirations and worries of Americans and in the wake of events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere nationwide since the summer of 2014. He will be writing an account of that 2-3-week trip to supplement Home Free. Along the way he plans to speak at colleges, high schools, civic clubs and religious congregations. Destinations will include Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Ethan Casey Saut d'EauTo invite Ethan to speak to your group during his fall 2015 Midwestern trip, or to learn more about his travels and writings, contact Ethan directly at ethan@ethancasey.com or through his Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/ethancasey.author

About Home Free: An American Road Trip:

Over  3 1/2 months and more than 18,000 miles between Labor Day and Christmas 2012, during and just after the presidential election, author Ethan Casey, whose previous books include Alive and Well in Pakistan and Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti, drove clockwise through every region of the contiguous United States, starting and ending in Seattle.

His purpose was to do what reporters and travel writers should do, and what he had done previously in books about Pakistan and Haiti: show up on the ground in person, seek out interesting and representative people, listen to their stories and points of view, take notes, then later sit down and stitch together a coherent narrative. His intention was to get away from the liberal echo chamber of his home city, catch history on the fly, and craft a nonfiction narrative account of America circa 2012 that will echo forward and remain relevant and readable for years to come.

Ethan’s itinerary included in-depth conversations with a few notable public figures such as the Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat in Miami and Enron scandal whistleblower Sherron Watkins in Houston, but most of the people he met were ordinary Americans from a variety of backgrounds, in every region of the country. What he found they all had in common was that they were struggling to make sense of the confusing and uncertain times we’re all living through.

Paul Rogat Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen and The Impossible Will Take a Little While, says: “Ethan Casey listened hard and well in his books on Haiti and Pakistan. Now he’s listening to America.”

And Bill Steigerwald, author of Dogging Steinbeck, considers Home Free better than the most famous of all American road trip books:

Just as John Steinbeck did in 1960 for his classic Travels With Charley, in the fall of 2012 Ethan Casey set out by car to discover – and document – the pulse of America and its people. Steinbeck’s ambitious search for his country was a failure, as the great author himself admitted. But Home Free is travel journalism at its finest. Casey delivers a valuable snapshot of 2012 America and its most contentious political and social issues.  Best of all, he introduces us to a rich cross-section of good, smart and thoughtful Americans who tell their stories and express their opinions fully on everything from immigration and gay marriage to the death of Detroit. Home Free is, in a real sense, the American road book Steinbeck set out to write but didn’t.

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Babe Ruth Birthday Party

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Why Celebrate Babe Ruth’s Birthday in Detroit? Why Not?

baberuth1More than two decades ago, in the early 1990s, the task at hand for some of us in Detroit was still to try to save Tiger Stadium. It’s a long story, but in a city with a Third World-

level infant mortality rate and many other severe problems, there was a lot more at stake than baseball or nostalgia. In those now long-ago days, among the active inner core of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, Tom Derry and I were the two young single guys, so we palled around a bit.

The leadership qualities of other, older fan club leaders like Frank Rashid were more obvious. Tom’s charisma, by contrast, is quiet and unassuming, and all the more impressive given that, despite being physically a big guy, Tom never imposes himself. All Tom does is take the lead when the lead needs taking and call ’em like he sees ’em. “I don’t see why we can’t just say the truth,” I remember him saying at a fan club meeting where strategies were being debated. “If it’s the truth, we should say it.” It had the oracular authority of a statement of the profoundly obvious. Most people avert their eyes from the profoundly obvious, but Tom doesn’t. Another thing I remember him saying in the same vein was, “Why are you a writer? Because you couldn’t be a major league baseball player. Same reason I’m a mailman.”

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Less steadfast and more restless than Tom, I left town. Tiger Stadium was needlessly destroyed, and those of us who would have it otherwise have had to deal with the sad and ugly truth that things that shouldn’t happen often happen anyway. One thing I’ve relearned since revisiting Detroit and reconnecting with Tom in 2012 – he figures prominently in Chapter 2 of my book Home Free: An American Road Trip – is that, even faced with painful material or political or personal loss, we remain in control of both our choices and our attitude.

Tom is still the same youthful, upbeat fellow I knew twenty-plus years ago, albeit now with a touch of gray at the temples. And he still takes the lead when the lead needs to be taken. One way he does this is through the Navin Field Grounds Crew, the wonderful group of volunteers who maintain the field at Michigan and Trumbull because the City of Detroit won’t do it and it should be done. “It still pisses me off, Tom,” I said to him when we visited the field together. “I know you’ve had a lot more practice at not being angry …”

“I think it’s because I’ve gotten so involved in cleaning it up,” he said. That’s Tom for you. He’d rather do something positive and helpful, whatever can be done now, than waste time and emotional energy being mad about things that can’t be helped anymore.

Tom’s other labor of love is the annual Babe Ruth Birthday Party in early February. He was already doing it, at his house, when I lived in Detroit. “You were there,” he reminded me. “I’ve got a picture of you. It’s not real close up, but there’s a bunch of people in it, like John and Judy Davids and the Burke sisters. And you can point and go, ‘Yeah, that’s Ethan Casey.’” It’s humbling to be reminded that I was there, because the Ruth Party has since burgeoned into a greatly appreciated Detroit institution. Recent Ruth Parties have attracted more than 700 people – let’s call it 714 people, one for each Ruth homer – to Nemo’s Bar on Michigan Avenue, a block east of Tiger Stadium.

Tom Derry’s 27th annual Babe Ruth Birthday Party will be held at Nemo’s starting at 7:14 p.m. on Saturday, February 1. I hear there’s going to be some big football game the next day, but there’s no better time than early February, with spring training around the corner, to celebrate baseball. But why hold a birthday party for Babe Ruth, of all people, in Detroit? Why not? The answer is profoundly obvious. For one thing, Ruth spent a lot of time eating, drinking, and performing baseballic heroics in Detroit. To Tom, the connection between Ruth and Detroit is so profoundly obvious that he and his fiancee are planning their wedding around it. “Sarah and I will be married at home plate August 3,” Tom tells me. “Sarah gets to stand in the left-handed batter’s box, the same place where Ruth batted for the Red Sox and Yankees. How cool is that?”

That’s pretty damn cool. Come to the Ruth Party at Nemo’s on February 1 to get all the inside baseball.

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