YAN – Dearborn
Arab Americans have paid tribute Congressman John Dingell who died on February 7 at age 92, praising him as a civil rights warrior and a friend of the community.
Dingell, who retired from Congress in 2015, was the longest serving member of the US House of Representatives, where he represented parts of Detroit and its suburbs, including Dearborn, for 50 years.
Over half a century, Dingell has been on the right side of many historic laws. He was a major supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
He has spoken out against hate crimes and discrimination. After the 9/11 attacks, all but 66 members of the House of Representatives voted in favor of the Patriot Act, which violated civil liberties and allowed for the indefinite detention of immigrants in the name of national security.
He also opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and voted against it.
In 2006, when Israel was massacring hundreds of Lebanese civilians in a war that displaced more than a million people, lawmakers pushed a pro-Israel resolution backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Only eight out 435 House members voted against the AIPAC resolution at the time. Dingell was one of them.
At a 2011 Congressional hearing, he called Arab and Muslim Americans “loyal, decent, honorable Americans”, warning Republican lawmaker Peter King not to “blot the good name or the loyalty or raise questions about the decency of Arabs or Muslims or other Americans en masse”.
After retiring from Congress, Dingell, who became known in Michigan as the Dean for his long years in public service, kept up the fight by publishing articles calling for reforms in the political system and regularly posting scathing, witty tweets criticizing bigots.
After Senator Ted Cruz, who was then running for president, called for surveilling Muslim neighborhoods, Dingell wrote on Twitter: “You could walk into La Pita in Dearborn and find five dozen Muslim-Americans more fit to be President than Ted Cruz.”
Dingell, a World War II veteran, did not hide his frustration with the rise of racism in the country.
“I signed up to fight Nazis 73 years ago and I’ll do it again if I have to. Hatred, bigotry, & fascism should have no place in this country,” he wrote on twitter last year.
Ali Baleed Almaklani, a leader in the Yemeni community and the executive director of the Yemen American Benevolent Association (YABA), said words fail to describe his sorrow for the departure of the congressman.
Almaklani said he had known Dingell for 40 years, and throughout the decades the congressman would always listen to the concerns of the Yemeni American community and seek local activists input on issues relating to the Middle East and Arab Americans.
“Dearborn, Michigan and the nation have lost a legendary statesman and an intelligent leader,” Almaklani told YAN. “And our community lost a true friend.”
He praised Dingell’s widow and successor in Congress, Debbie Dingell, saying that the community sends its respect and condolences to the Dingell family.
Other community members echoed Almaklani’s comments.
“Thank you John Dingell for your courage, your principled public service, and for your genuine friendship. You were truly a giant,” Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS wrote on Twitter.
Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja said Dingell’s death is a loss to the nation.
“While the entire country mourns the loss of this giant of a man, we here in Dearborn will miss him most,” she wrote.
“John Dingell, with all his stature, was humble, charismatic and genuine. He cared and we all felt it. In my first few years on Council, he often gave me advice because he wanted me to succeed. He wanted Dearborn to succeed.”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) lauded the late congressman’s commitment to civil rights.
“This is an immeasurable loss for our nation and our community. Congressman John Dingell was a champion for civil rights and a star supporter of the issues impacting Arab-Americans,” ADC president, Samer Khalaf, said in a statement.
“He will remain a celebrated fixture in the ADC community. We honor his commitment, partnerships, and friendships with ADC local chapters and members. Congressman John Dingell will be greatly missed, we will ensure that his legacy for justice and civil rights will continue to live on.”
The Arab American Institute (AAI) called him a “tireless advocate for his constituents”, praising his support for Palestinian statehood.
“As the Arab American community in southeast Michigan grew in size, they found a natural ally in a congressman who wanted to support his constituents. In the face of anti-Arab bigotry targeting the Dearborn community over the years, Rep. Dingell was relentless in defending our rights—even from colleagues when it was necessary,” the Institute said in a statement.
AAI Executive Director Maya Berry said Dingell will be missed.
“With John Dingell’s passing, our country has lost a national treasure, my community a fierce advocate, and I a hero/mentor.”
In a eulogy to Dingell on the House floor, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib called Dingell a “legend”, saying she was inspired by his support for the Civil Rights Act and Clean Air Act.
She expressed gratitude for his sense of humor as well as his warmth and kindness to younger activists.
“As a Muslim girl growing up in America today, thank you Congressman Dingell for your courage and for your love.”