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With Malice Toward None

Even in metro Detroit, which boasts the largest population of Arabic-speaking people outside the Middle East, stereotypes of Arab-Americans remain entrenched. The Arab American National Museum’s program With Malice Toward None aims to break down those stereotypes and open dialogue between Arab-Americans and other groups.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Arab American National Museum's "With Malice Toward None" Project Lead Dr. Matthew Stiffler: Our position as a national museum that is community-based allows us to do many things. Because of our position as a museum, with a library and archive and an auditorium, and the ability to do outreach, our program works because it’s multi-pronged.
One of the prongs is observing, collecting, and documenting. We have an archivist who is capturing online activities that affect our community and preserving them through a program called Archive-it. It’s a way to actually grab live web pages and save them and preserve them in an archive. We’re focusing on pages with bad stuff, like Islamophobics, and also capturing websites that respond to that.
We’re also partnering with Story Corps, and have captured the conversations in the Library of Congress, and it’s also been given to us as community archive.
I’m also going to these communities and driving to Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Flint and meeting with mosques, churches, and student organizations and archiving what has been happening in these communities in the last 10 years. We
There's a machine out there turning out anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stuff, and we're just a small museum trying to make a difference.
have also been bringing educational material for them to hand out at festivals. We facilitate, observe, collect, and document the community and their experiences.
As the second prong, we’re also a convening institution. We’ve done some national conferences here.
The third prong is educating. We do lesson plans and some really well done educational booklets.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
What’s been great for me is that I am trained as an academic. I did some community work for my dissertation, but working with the community was frightening to me when I started. I am more comfortable in a library and around books. It was really rough, but now I think a lesson learned in the last year is that we have a lot of community members at all levels who want to be affiliated with us and not only respect the work we do, but know we respect them. We not only want to know what they are doing, but we want to promote it. They respect that we are willing to get in the car and drive from Dearborn to Grand Rapids to go to an event that the Muslim Association at Grand Valley State University is doing. They can’t believe this museum is actually out there meeting with them. I think our community really appreciates that. It’s not how they would view a museum doing this kind of work, but it’s a natural fit for us.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Working with the community can be very difficult and really time consuming. Trying to get ten people in Grand Rapids to meet with me because I am only coming out for a few hours is really tough. The last year has been really not a good time to be a Muslim in the U.S., and an Arab too. They get lumped together even though they are very distinct communities. Every time we produce a booklet about the history of Muslims in the U.S., it’s been really tough to feel like the small steps we are trying to make will ever have an impact. There’s a machine out there turning out anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stuff, and we’re just a
We don't want this to just be a
small museum trying to make a difference. There’s nothing we can do but keep pushing.
What really differentiates this program?
One is that we’re grassroots. After 9-11, I can’t even begin to count the amount of reports that came out, and the academic research done about Arabs and Muslims. There were very few organizations that actually went to talk to people to make those reports. We actually called people up and asked them what happened to them after 9-11; we were going and talking to people in a very safe space. We didn’t even take notes because we didn’t want people to think they couldn’t speak freely. Understanding the needs of our community differentiated us from the other things being done with community. At first we thought we’d just talk to Arab Americans, but Muslims include followers from 67 different communities. We found out quickly that we had to include all Muslims. We can’t just go in and say we just want to hear from Arabs. We have to hear from Bosnian Muslims or other Muslims. We don’t want this to just be a “woe is me” project – we want to highlight what amazing things the community has produced and done for the last 12 years. It’s not always a victim story, and that’s what separates our program from the rest.
What are the keys to success for your program?
It’s going to be the same as the first question, about our multi-pronged approach. We can do so many things: produce, document, convene, and facilitate. That makes us unique.
How do race or diversity affect the work of your program?
There are a hundred different countries that have people that make up our one Arab-American community. Michigan is so diverse. When we went to Flint we met with the Arab-American Christian community. There is lot of resentment toward Muslims in their communities because of the way that U.S. foreign policy has positioned Muslims, so that Arab Americans that are Christian feel the need to separate themselves out: they are part of the same community but they are not. The community is not singular and monolithic. There is an internal discussion going on in they way that Arab and Muslims are raced in the US. They are legally white since the 1960s, although a lot of them feel they are not; they typically have darker skin and are treated in a way that they are not part of the majority society. 

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