Four Christians were arrested and thrown out of a public Arab festival in Michigan – and at least two people claim a crowd cheered "Allahu akbar!" while the Christians were led away in handcuffs for doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful dialogue and videotaping the event.
Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla and 18-year-old Negeen Mayel attended the 15th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival on June 18 in Dearborn, Mich., where an estimated 30,000 of the city's 98,000 residents are Muslim.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce announced the event was expected to draw "over 300,000 people from across the country, Canada and the Middle East." The festival covers 14 blocks and is free and open to the public.
Qureshi and Mayel are former Muslims who are now Christians. Mayel's parents emigrated from Afghanistan. Wood is a former atheist. All are from a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics.
In the following video after the arrest, Qureshi said his group took "extra precautions" to prevent disruptions by not handing out pamphlets and to speak only to people "who first approached us":
"This was to limit accusations of instigation and disruption," he explained. "We knew people have a tendency to accuse us of being disruptive, of inciting and instigating. So we wanted to make sure we did absolutely nothing of the sort."
Qureshi said people at the festival recognized his group from its visit in 2009. Last year, the Acts 17 Apologetics team was escorted from the grounds while being allegedly assaulted by security personnel and several attendees. The following is the group's footage of the incident:
This year, Qureshi said some attendees who recognized them "would come up to us, accusing us, threatening us, saying we were racists, saying they were going to hurt us and yelling curses and insults at us."
However, he said his group was able to engage in civil conversations with many people who initiated discussion. But then the group was arrested by local police. Each of the four are now free on bond.
"Paul, David, Negeen, and I went to the festival to see and comment on the situation," Qureshi wrote on his blog. "Thankfully, we recorded every second of our activity at the festival."
According to his post, the video footage was confiscated by police. Versions posted online had been removed at the time of this report.
"[W]e will post footage when the police give us back our cameras," he wrote.
Qureshi recounted his experience:
At one point, we came across a festival volunteer who seemed to take issue with us simply being at the festival. We could tell he had a problem with us, and so we asked, "What are we doing wrong?" He said, "Put the camera and microphone down, and I'll tell you." (By the way, there was more to this conversation, but when you see the footage, I think you'll see I'm being fair in my summary.) So I obliged, handing the microphone to David and asking him to not record the man. I then approached him and said, "No camera, no mic, tell me what we're doing wrong." He said, "Get away from me!" (or something to that effect). Again, I obliged, and walked away.
About 20 minutes later, to shouts and cheers of "Allahu akbar!" we were all being led away from the festival in handcuffs. From the brief description we were given by the police of why we were being arrested, it sounds like the festival volunteer said we surrounded him and didn't give him an opportunity to leave, thereby "breaching the peace." This is as blatantly false as an accusation can
Wood told Atlas Shrugs' Pamela Geller, "We followed the rules, and still got thrown in jail. They flat-out lied about us. We can prove they lied with the video footage (just like last year), but the police took our cameras and won't let us have the footage. There's major oppression of anyone who criticizes Islam."
Qureshi told Geller, "[W]e repeatedly affirmed our love for all Muslims. Whenever I was asked, 'Why would you love me?' I said, 'Because Jesus loves you, and he told me to love you.' No hating, no disturbing, no harassing. It remains only to be concluded that we were arrested simply for being Christian preachers at the Arab Festival in Dearborn."
"When Dr. Qureshi was arrested I heard people clapping and applauding, and some said 'Allahu akbar,'" he said. "It was an intense discussion, but it was not unruly. … There was no threat of violence."
Atkins added, "It's becoming more restrictive here than in Canada."
Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, an officer who was recently appointed to serve on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, told the Detroit Free Press the four Christians were arrested for disorderly conduct.
"We did make four arrests for disorderly conduct," Haddad said. "They did cause a stir."
Haddad told the paper he's not taking sides, but he said officers must keep the peace at the event that draws 300,000 people over three days.
"Everyone's space should be respected," he said. "It's Father's Day weekend. ... People are here to have a good time, and it's our job to ensure security."
However, a blog called the Facts About Islam, dedicated to "clearing up falsehoods leveled at Islam," argued that the group had planned to get attention and stir up trouble prior to attending the festival.
"A lot of people may not know David Wood was planning this for a while. He was looking for trouble," the blogger said in a video reaction to the arrests. "His intention was to go there with his video camera, incite, provoke Muslims into inflammatory behavior so he could have his propaganda crew of video footage of Muslims behaving badly so he could feature this on his blog and get views. That's all he wanted. He got his sensational video footage. It's not the type of video footage he was after. Nevertheless, it's sensational."
He accused them of being "insincere" and "not looking to preach the gospel."
"He did this under the guise of preaching the gospel," the blogger said. "He was looking for trouble. He got his trouble."
He said before the 2010 event, Wood declared, "Muslims have threatened us with death if we return to the festival, so now we definitely have to show up," and, "We hope the dialogues at the Arab festival are peaceful, but we need cameras in case Muslims decide to kick our heads in."
The man said Wood and his crew were "causing trouble" at the 2009 festival and were "choked out."
"So this time, they top it by getting arrested," he said.
He added, "Christians need to wise up and stop allowing people – insincere people – to exploit their naivete and innocence."
In a separate case WND reported earlier, a federal appeals court granted an emergency motion allowing another Christian, Pastor George Saieg, to hand out information about his faith at the same festival.
A three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion requested by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Saieg, a Sudanese Christian.
According to the law center, Judge Paul Borman had affirmed the city's ban on handing out Christian material near the festival. It was last year when Dearborn police threatened Saieg with arrest if he handed out information on Christianity near the event.
At that time, the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restriction. Saieg and his volunteers for many years had passed out literature in Dearborn without incident before the crackdown in recent years.
"It's ironic that while Americans recently applauded the free speech exercised by hundreds of thousands of Muslims on the streets of Iran, the city of Dearborn was restricting the free-speech rights of Christians on the city's public streets and sidewalks," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the center.
The appellate judges, in their announcement, stated, "The loss of a First Amendment right, 'for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.'"
"This factor weights in favor of injunctive relief for Saieg," the ruling said.