Monday, March 03, 2008

I'm Not Sure Who I Loathe Most. . .

Ignorant Arabs? Wal-Mart? Apartheid Israel?

As America changes, so does the store where America shops. In Dearborn this week, the world's largest retailer opens a store like no other among its 3,500 U.S. outlets. Walk through the front door of the 200,000-square-foot supercenter and instead of rows of checkout counters, you find a scene akin to a farmers market in Beirut. Twenty-two tables are stacked high with fresh produce like kusa and batenjan, squash and eggplant used in Middle Eastern dishes. Rimming the produce department are shelves filled with Arab favorites like mango juice from Egypt and vine leaves from Turkey used to make mehshi, or stuffed grape leaves. A walled-off section of the butcher case is devoted to Halal meats, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law (when a Wal-Mart manager noticed the pork section was too prominent he ordered it moved, since Muslims don't eat pork). In the freezer case, you'll find frozen falafel. You can also pick up a CD from Lebanese pop singer Ragheb Alama or buy Muslim greeting cards.

Wal-Mart's Arab-American emporium provides a preview of the retail giant's latest strategy to boost business as it reaches the saturation point in its American expansion. Over the past two years, Wal-Mart has tested its "store of the community": it has stocked stores in Chicago and Atlanta with products aimed at African-Americans and set up a hitching post at an Ohio store near a large Amish community. The Dearborn store, though, is the most extreme example of the concept. Wal-Mart offers its standard fare, plus 550 items targeted at Middle Eastern shoppers. "In the past, Wal-Mart has been pretty cookie-cutter when it comes to merchandise," says Dearborn store manager Bill Bartell. "But this time, we really got to know the community. We're blazing a trail here."

Typically when Wal-Mart comes to town, it drops its big-box store on the community with a thud. Then it rolls out rock-bottom prices that undercut local merchants, who often wither and die. That Bigfooting has led to passionate community opposition in many markets, including suburban Detroit, where it opened its first supercenter just a year ago to protests over plans to stay open 24 hours (Wal-Mart backed down to 18 hours a day).

To fit into this bastion of ethnic tradition, Wal-Mart started two years ago to meet with imams and moms, conducting focus groups at Middle Eastern restaurants. Wal-Mart learned the community wasn't as concerned about seeing Arabic-language signs as they were with dealing with Arabic-speaking staff. So Bartell hired about 35 Arabic speakers, including Suehaila Amen, a local middle-school teacher who is providing ethnic-sensitivity training to the 650 employees. He also learned not to bother stocking traditional Muslim clothing, like the headscarf, or hijab, Amen wears. "The community told us, 'I would not feel comfortable coming to Wal-Mart to buy my hijab'," says assistant store manager Jordan Berke. "We're not here to overstep our bounds."

Despite the sensitive sell, local shopkeepers still worry about Wal-Mart. "There is a fear factor in the business community," says Osama Siblani, publisher of Dearborn's Arab American News. To allay those fears, Wal-Mart is making an extraordinary promise: it will not undercut the prices of the small local merchants (though it will still go after Kroger). The insular company even agreed to be scrutinized by a "community advisory board" made up of local Arab-American leaders to ensure it isn't harming the mom-and-pop shops. One example: Wal-Mart agreed to charge one dime more than local grocers for a six-pack of pita bread.
Full Story: Newsweek

(I'm sparing you the picture of the sister who will forever be immortalized as somebody who cares more about her hummus than the poverty of others.)

I'm disturbed beyond words.

BooHoo. Let's cry about Palestine and then turn a blind eye to the fact that the majority of people of conscience refuse to shop at Wal-Mart. Yay olive oil! It's so bad: Wikipedia gave the Wal-Mart criticisms their own page! There was a movie made about how disgusting this corporation is - and some Muslims just can't get their head out of the sand.

And to make things better the only concern these Arabs had was that they mom and pops businesses would be impacted by all of this. Let's put domestic low wages and international sweat shop patronage aside and instead make sure that Wal-Mart promises not to undercut prices at our local Arab stores.

Ya'Allah why are we so ignorant? And self-centered?


Yesi King said...

lol....i was gonna post this on muslamics lol....but yeah pretty pathetic.

Sarah:) said...

SubhanAllah.. Jazaky Allahu khayran!

Ayat said...

Assalam Alikum Sister,

That is me on the picture. What did I do wrong? The photographer asked me if he can take my picture. I work at the vision center. I have nothing to do with the food or grocery department. I thought I was doing a good thing to show Americans that I am not locked up in my home, and on a personal level did not assmiliate to tight jeans and expose my chest size.

Can someone once and for all explain to me what was wrong taking a picture? My intention was only to bring Islam in a positive light. Why does every single thing need to be twisted or slanted 180 degrees?

I would appreciate a response from you, so if I did anything wrong I can learn from my mistake. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Surprised to not have seen this on your blog.

Please copy the link and disapprove my comment.

Zahra Billoo said...

WS Ayat,

I'm really sorry about the misunderstanding. This is an issue much too complex to explain via a blog comment and I have no way of getting hold of you.

Did you happen to click on the link I posted? I mentioned Wikipedia had a whole page on WalMart criticisms.

Email me if you read this? My contact information is in my blogger profile.


K said...

instead of loathing the "ignorant Arabs", why not try to educate them?

I fear that we sometimes forget what our dear Prophet said about gentleness. One of the many quotes, "Gentleness never enters into anything without embellishing it,
and it is never taken out of anything without disgracing it."