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Iraqi-Americans Cheer Saddam’s Arrest; Reaction Mixed in Arab World

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Iraqi-Americans cheered in the streets of Dearborn, Mich., as news broke Sunday of the arrest of Iraq’s deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Metropolitan Detroit is home to a large concentration of Shi’ite Muslims, who fled Hussein’s rule after a failed 1991 uprising, the Detroit Free Press reported Monday, but Iraqi Catholics called Chaldeans make up the majority of Michigan’s Iraqi community.

In a follow-up story Tuesday, the paper described the thousands of people in Detroit’s Iraqi community as split over whether they would like to eventually return to their homeland. Many Muslims love America’s freedoms but not its permissiveness. They want their children to learn English, but fear they won’t learn Arabic, the language of their holy Scripture.

Nomie Derani, a social worker with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship who until recently worked with Muslims in Dearborn, said not all Arab-Americans feel the same about Saddam Hussein, but she has heard many Iraqis describe him as a “killer.”

“We don’t have the right to take it away from the Iraqis, who are saying ‘Thank God he’s gone,’ because of the many things that have happened to their families,” Derani, who is Lebanese, told EthicsDaily.com in a telephone interview.

Derani, former director of the women’s department at Dearborn’s Arab-American Friendship Center, transferred this summer to Brooklyn, N.Y., to begin similar work there.

She said many Iraqis in the United States would like to return to their homeland but are still uncertain about the nation’s future. “Are they really assured they are going to go back and everything is going to be right?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”

Reaction to Saddam’s capture was mixed in Arab communities around the world, according to various media reports.

In neighboring Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990, the press openly celebrated the Iraqi dictator’s humiliating capture, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah called his detention “fair judgment for Kuwaitis who suffered at the hands of Saddam,” according to Radio Free Europe.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced Saddam as a “bloodthirsty wolf” and expressed relief at his capture but said the world would be also better off without President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to the Associated Press.

Sharon said the arrest should serve as “an important lesson” for other dictatorships, “especially those contaminated with terror.”

Reaction was muted, meanwhile, in Arab countries with similarities to the former regime in Iraq.

The Palestinian Authority, led by Chairman Yasser Arafat, made no comment on the arrest, but a senior Hamas leader called it an “ugly and despicable” act, for which the United States would “pay a very high price,” according to the Tel-Aviv newspaper Haaretz.

For some, the arrest raised questions about the legitimacy of other Arab regimes, like Egypt and Syria, which were established by coup, according to Haaretz. There was little response from Jordan, where the government supports U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq while many citizens support Saddam.

Saudi Arabia met the news with “silent relief” at being rid of a menace, coupled with concern over Washington’s plans for Iraq and the Gulf, according to Reuters.

A Baptist leader in the international community welcomed the former dictator’s arrest but urged Baptists both within and outside the Arab world to identify human rights as “a key concern” in the new Iraq.

“There is plenty of talk of ensuring a fair and just trial—one that will, in the words of President Bush, ‘stand international scrutiny,'” said Graham Sparkes of the department for research and training in mission for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. “But while both the U.S.A. and Britain enact terrorist legislation that keeps people incarcerated without trial, this commitment to justice will appear false and hypocritical,” he said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com.

“We need to be consistent in our commitment to human rights, if we expect as much from the Iraq of the future,” he said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.