Fordson: Food, Fasting, Football asks you to remember another 9/11, the one that changed everything for the Arab community in Dearborn, Michigan.
"Islam is a violent religion. It's not a religion of peace," proclaims an off-screen voice. Another adds, "They mean to kill as many of us as they can, and it's because it's what God wants them to do." Ann Coulter, her voice unmistakable, chimes in, "If all Muslims would boycott airlines, we could dispense with airport security altogether," just before Glenn Beck threatens, "The Muslims will see the West through razor wire."
Under this montage of voices, angry, aggrieved, and self-righteous, you see high school football players. The field is green, their uniforms bright, orange and white. These action shots are intercut with black and white stills, Muslim families posed for formal portraits, their expressions composed and their dress traditional. By the end of the sequence -- which opens the documentary Fordson: Food, Fasting, Football -- the football players are gathered together on the sideline, praying.
None of the images -- the kids on the field in Dearborn, Michigan or the families in frames -- look remotely like the monsters described in the post-9/11 media screeds. And yet, of course, the connections among them are made, mostly by outsiders feeling fearful or vengeful, and mostly to discouraging effects.
As "America" remembers 9/11 on this ongoing week marking the 10th anniversary, as image after image recalls the planes striking the Twin Towers, the smoke rising from the field in Pennsylvania, or George W. Bush standing with firemen at Ground Zero, Rashid Ghazi's film asks you to remember another 9/11, the one that changed everything for the Arab community in Dearborn, the one that left members of the Tractors, the Fordson High School football team, their classmates (95% Arabic), their parents and teachers, reeling. "I would say it definitely woke us up," says Adam Berry, who graduated in 2002. His principal, Imad Fadallah, explains that suddenly, the sense of security the community had assumed was gone. The media "make you feel responsible," he says, "As if you're related to hijackers, whether you like it or not."
The film indicates that the longtime Arabic community in Dearborn -- the "largest single concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East" -- is at least somewhat insular. This in a sense that's recognizable to its inhabitants. When, some decades ago, the auto industry provided plenty of jobs, the Arabic population expanded quickly, as workers bought homes and then also bought homes for their sisters and uncles. "They like to stay tight, very tight," says Yusuf Berry, wearing his Fordson cap and identified here as a Tractors "superfan." The film shows young football players working at their parents' shops and garages, as Mohammad Bazzi describes the "family pride." "You want to live at home," he says, "I think the family structure sometimes carries into football, the togetherness like they display."
For the Tractors, and for their families and neighbors, the togetherness is advantageous. During Ramadan, for instance, they tend to eat dinners together, as groups, a celebration each night. While the film notes that playing football during Ramadan can be difficult -- the players must fast during the day for the month -- it's also a "glorious" time, a reassertion of the identity and faith, a means of coming to understand yourself as part of a community and a tradition.
To outsiders, however, this togetherness can seem threatening. And this all-American inclination to a fear of "others" was only exacerbated by 9/11. "We were hit we were hit twice on September 11," observes Osama Siblani of the Arab American News, "Once by bin Laden, like all Americans, and again by those who associated us with Osama bin Laden." The documentary emphasizes the ways that these Americans are like other Americans, and the unfairness of the prejudice that became so incessantly visible following 9/11.
The film's primary case in point -- aside from the kids recalling the names they've been called, both before and after 9/11 -- is the arrest of former Tractors lineman Ali Houssaiky and his friend Osama, both 20 years old. In 2005, they were buying up cell phones, which authorities suspected they meant to rig for blowing up bombs. He case ended up dismissed, but the boys spent time in jail and their relatives appeared on television to decry the lack of a case and the profiling by arresting officers.
The film seems distracted by such episodes, dramatic as they may be. It also spends precious little time observing the kids in their daily lives, washing cars or hanging out at the 7-11, where girls in hijabs flirt with boys in football jerseys, or Fordson's mostly working class kids talk trash about the wealthier students at rival Dearborn High, many of whom are also Arabic.
Such details are rendered too quickly, as the film focuses its energies on a broader picture that seems too simple. Coach Fouad "Walker" Zaban urges his players to resist reacting too emotionally to racism or poor officiating ("Fix it," he says), He takes a more nuanced approach to the various effects of prayer, as a personal dedication or public declaration of identity. As the film shows two locker rooms, one where players pray to a Christian God and the other where kids recite from the Koran, you're reminded that religion shapes diurnal experience and expectations for all kinds of people.
At the same time, though, as the film assumes football is the very definition of "Americanism," it misses another point about institutional shaping of character, faith, and identity. Difference is as complex as sameness. It's a point worth remarking, as the NFL goes on, in the words of Dave Zirin, to "remember 9/11 in all the wrong ways," this weekend.