The tragedy of 9/11 affected Detroit’s Arabic community on countless life-altering levels, including personal losses among those who lost relatives, and more who suffered an aftermath of lingering misconceptions from non-Arabs who can’t quite ‘get’ the difference between extremists using Islam to advance causes repulsive to the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims.
For Doraid Elder, criminal lawyer and part-time magistrate, the first significant aftershock of 9/11 was when he realized how quickly he’d have to become a human rights attorney.
“It was a hard time for Detroit Muslims, but also a bonding time. I think that at the moment the Trade Towers were bombed, our hearts were sinking as our jaws dropped: not only had the planes been hijacked by lunatics, but our religion had been hijacked as well. For a long time, we only trusted members of our immediate community.”
When, in the aftermath of the attack, federal agents descended on Dearborn and began to interrogate citizens—the vast majority of whom had nothing of substance to share, frightened Arab Americans looked to Elder for legal advice. Elder, for his part, despite a seasoned career in law, was shocked at the aggression of the investigators—not because he failed to understand their urgency in trying to root out terrorists, but because their targets were so mundane—everyday people who had lived here for years. “They were on a fishing trip, really,” says Elder. “They were questioning people for no other reason than they were of Arab background and had not yet attained citizenship. Once they understood that these folks couldn’t help with information, they pressured them into agreeing to work for the US government if required. They really needed an advocate who understood them, and their rights.”
In fact, says Elder with confidence, Detroit’s Arab community is the farthest thing from a threat to American security he can imagine. He uses himself as an example: “If I had any inkling that someone from my neighborhood had intentions of harming Americans on any level, you’d have to pry me off him. This is my country, and I will protect her at all costs.”