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Detroit Arab American study portrays a complex population

Fifteen percent of Arabs and Chaldeans in the Detroit area say they personally have had a “bad experience” after the Sept. 11 attacks because of their ethnicity, according to preliminary results from a U-M study.

These experiences include verbal insults, workplace discrimination, targeting by law enforcement or airport security, vandalism, and, in rare cases, vehicular and physical assault. But a greater proportion (one-third) have received expressions of support from non-Arabs.
Voters in Dearborn. (© 2003 Jim West Photography)

A majority of the representative sample of Detroit-area Arabs and Chaldeans surveyed by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) favor increased law enforcement and intelligence agency surveillance to ensure U.S. homeland security. But only 17 percent—compared with 49 percent of a representative sample of the general population in the area—support increased surveillance that targets Arab Americans.

The general population believes Arab Americans need to do more to fight terrorism, while nearly 75 percent of Arabs and Chaldeans say they are doing all they can. Just 36 percent, compared with 53 percent of the general population, believe that U.S. involvement in the Middle East is contributing to the region’s stability.

In the landmark study of one of the oldest, largest and most visible Arab-American communities in the nation, researchers interviewed 1,016 Arabs and Chaldeans and 508 members of the general population in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The Detroit Arab American Study, funded primarily by the Russell Sage Foundation, is a collaboration between ISR, U-M-Dearborn and an advisory panel of community representatives from more than 20 secular, religious and social service organizations.

“Arabs, Chaldeans and others of Middle Eastern descent have been singled out for public scrutiny and government surveillance,” says sociologist and business professor Wayne Baker, who led the research team. “Speculation about this population has been intense, but accurate information is rare. This report provides a reliable and comprehensive profile of this important community.”

One popular misconception the new findings correct involves the community’s religious affiliations, says researcher Ronald Stockton of the U-M-Dearborn Center for Arab American Studies (CAAS). “The majority of this population is Christian—about 58 percent—and 42 percent are Muslim,” Stockton says.

While both Christian and Muslim members of the Arab community are deeply religious, Muslims are much more likely to worry about the image of their religion and the future of their families.

Among the other key findings:
• Although three-quarters of the Arabs and Chaldeans surveyed were born overseas and immigrated to the United States, a large majority—79 percent—are U.S. citizens. Most are bilingual, and 80 percent speak English well or very well. Eighty-six percent say they feel at home in the United States, and 91 percent say they are proud to be American.

• Arabs and Chaldeans are both richer and poorer than Americans as a whole, with 25 percent claiming household incomes of more than $100,000 and the same proportion struggling to make ends meet with family incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

• Arabs and Chaldeans express more confidence in the American legal system and in local police than the general Detroit-area population, but are much more concerned about whether people accused of terrorism will receive fair trials.

• Arabs and Chaldeans are more likely than other residents of the area to take part in demonstrations and protests, but less likely to sign petitions or contribute to political campaigns.

• About three-quarters of Arabs and Chaldeans watch the news on television every day or several days a week and half feel that American news coverage is biased against Muslims. About 40 percent of the general population in the area agrees.

“While the Arab and Chaldean communities in the Detroit area clearly have a strong sense of cultural and religious identity, and many of them say they need to make a greater effort to communicate with and be open to other Americans,” Baker says. “They also believe that the fight against anti-Arab stereotypes and discrimination is crucial. They want to improve their relations with other communities, achieve better representation in government and the media, and become more involved in American society while at the same time keeping their culture alive in America.”

The Detroit Arab American Study research team also includes U-M researchers Sally Howell, Andrew Shryock, Ann Chih Lin and Mark Tessler, and Princeton University researcher Amaney Jamal.

Additional funds for the study were provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the following U-M units: the Dearborn CAAS; ISR; the Office of the Provost; the Office of the Vice President for Research; the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy; the Business School and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

For more information about the study, visit

Preliminary findings from the Detroit Arab-American study>

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