By: Merrill McCarthy
Imagine the surprise of some Chaldean families to learn a new mosque was being planned for a small parcel of land in the middle of their very residential neighborhood. Even though preliminary planning had been in the works for over a year, the adjacent residents were only notified at the last minute when the zoning variance hurdle needed to be cleared.
The news came at the end of July when people are away on summer vacations, so it may have been a little difficult to get people together to deal with the shocking news. As they wrapped their minds about what a mosque would mean, they were mostly stunned that it was such an inappropriate location. They worried about parking and noise problems and had concerns about the neighborhood fire station and whether clogged streets might impede response times for emergency calls. They thought the size of the land parcel was just too small to support the building and parking area. The mosque was designed to be taller than any other building around and would surely dominate the neighborhood. The residents worried about their quality of life and how this would impact property values.
On September 2, 2015, robo-calls were delivered to the phones of 18,000 Sterling Heights residents by Tarek M. Baydoun, a Dearborn, Michigan real estate attorney and Muslim activist. It is his voice on the call proclaiming that “some Muslims moved to America in search of personal and religious freedom, exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.” So, why would he want to deny the current landowners the right to their peaceful enjoyment of their property in an area that is zoned residential and could only entertain the idea of a mosque with a variance in current zoning law.
Why would Baydoun be involved in the local situation of another suburban Detroit city that is not even in the same county as his home in Dearborn? Why would the stakes be raised with an intrusive computerized phone call strategy when the process was already moving forward through the city council and planning board in Sterling Heights? What did he hope to accomplish with his activism?
He is no stranger to robo-calls. In fact, an article written by Debbie Schlussel on October 13, 2010 outlined his phone call strategy against Republican Nevada US Senate candidate Sharon Angle in her bid to defeat Harry Reid. Baydoun made 250,000 calls to Nevada residents. What was his interest in that race? Was he a paid activist then? Is he a paid activist now? And who is picking up the tab? Local neighborhood residents in Sterling Heights have speculated that there may be outside forces, possibly international interests pushing for the mosque to be built in this location.
Historically, the Muslim Arab immigrants have moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a western suburb of Detroit while Chaldeans and other Christian Arabs have settled more in the northeastern suburbs. The proposed Sterling Heights mosque is right in the middle of an established residential Chaldean neighborhood. It is probably not the best location because of cramped space for the footprint of the building and required parking. In fact, there are several other better locations suggested as alternatives by the Chaldeans who are not welcoming the new mosque in their neighborhood. But, so far, the mosque builders are set on this spot. Again, WHY?
Is this the proxy battle for what is going on in the Middle East where Christians are being persecuted, tortured and beheaded? The Muslims are impacted as well because all the instability in the region is leading to difficult situations for everyone and both Christians and Muslims are seeking refugee status. Many of the people in Dearborn are foreign born with the largest Muslim population in the country and more than half of the population of Sterling Heights is foreign born in a city of more than 130,000. Not all the Sterling Heights immigration is from the Middle East and it is very much a melting pot. Up till now, assimilation by Christian refugees has been the norm.
Are the Muslims staking a claim in Sterling Heights to exert their influence? Is there some reason they think a fourth mosque is going to be needed? Are more Muslims headed for Sterling Heights? Are the rumors true that the U.S. will be inviting 65,000 Syrian refugees above and beyond the immigration quotas in the Refugee Resettlement program? Mr. Baydoun’s actions with robo-calling appear to indicate raised stakes. That’s why national media outlets are watching local situations like this.
The issues here revolve around local control and involvement by those who will be most impacted. It should not have been a last minute surprise to learn that a new mosque was coming to the neighborhood. And it should not come as a surprise that we are bringing in Syrians or other refugees. The welcome mat is usually never as welcoming for “drop ins” as it is for “invited guests” and our policies should bear that in mind as we grapple with some of these difficult issues.
Citizens that support the call for local control over refugee resettlement are populating an interactive map with their signatures on the Center for Security Policy’s national petition