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March 22, 2007 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-03-22

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New Name, New Start

Restaurateur cuts ties with La Shish and welcomes back diners.

Don Cohen
Special to the Jewish News

Pho to by Do n Co hen

with Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah,
widely recognized as the spiritual leader
of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist
amir "Sam" Saleh, owner of the
organization Hezbollah (Party of God).
Mezza Mediterranean Grill on
The indictment charged the "skimming
Orchard Lake Road, says his
and concealment" of more than $16 mil-
Jewish clientele are returning to his res-
lion and there was speculation that some
taurant now that it is no longer part of the of the money had gone to Hezbollah.
La Shish restaurant chain.
Photos of Chahine with
The La Shish sign came
Fadlallah at a Hezbollah
down March 11 at the res-
outpost in southern
taurant at 4189 Orchard Lake
Lebanon and receipts for
Road, just south of Pontiac
a previous contribution
Trail, in Orchard Lake.
to Fadlallah's charity also
He hopes the focus will be
were mentioned.
on tabouleh rather than on
Saleh bought the Sheik
restaurant in 2005, and
The restaurant was hit hard
turned it into the first
after the U.S. government
franchise in the La Shish
issued an indictment last May
chain. Impressed by the
against La Shish, its owner
good name, high quality
Talal Chahine and his financial amir "Sa m" Saleh
and financial opportunity,
manager on four counts of
he was just two days away
tax evasion. Papers filed with the court
from finalizing a deal to buy the entire
claimed Chahine has "connections at the
14-restaurant chain from Chahine when
highest levels of ... Hizballah," referencing
the indictment for tax evasion was filed.
Chahine's participation in a fundraiser
Saleh took a double hit: The deal for the

La Shish chain fell through when Chahine
did not return to the U.S., a requirement
for closing the deal; and many of his
previously satisfied customers, which he
estimates as 75-80 percent Jewish, stayed
"It was like a hurricane hit you; we went
right down to 45 percent of our business:'
Saleh said.
While Saleh knew of the tax evasion
charges, he says "I didn't know about
his issue with terrorism. We had no
knowledge. I never would have met with
[Chahine], never would have talked with
him. I didn't need that aggravation."

Condemns Hezbollah
Samir Saleh was born in Beirut in 1967
and came to the U.S. in 1986. He lives
in Rochester Hills with his wife and two
children and owns nine other restaurants,
including another Mezza Mediterranean
Grill on Grand River in Novi. He is trea-
surer of his church, St. George [Greek]
Orthodox Church in Troy.
He says those who know him don't feel
he was treated fairly. "I respect the con-

cern and support the concern. I respect
and understand their opinion; and I hope
they understand me, toe Saleh says.
"[Chahine's] problem become my prob-
lem, and I had nothing to do with it. I'm
just an honest guy who wants to make a
Saleh says as soon as the story broke
and the deal fell through he cut all ties
with Chahine and has been an indepen-
dent owner since last year. He says he
hasn't paid his franchise fees since April
2006 and has been preparing his own food
since July. The Orchard Lake restaurant is
no longer listed on the La Shish Web site.
Saleh prefers to talk about his busi-
ness, and not politics. But when asked, he
had no problem condemning Hezbollah
and supporting Israel's right to exist and
"I have no love for them, no support for
them, and I condemn them by all means:'
Saleh says of Hezbollah.
He says he has only returned to
Lebanon once since leaving and then only
to try to buy the restaurant chain. "I am an
American. I gave up my citizenship from

Idealogical Battle

Ex-jihadist calls for reinterpreting the Koran.

Don Cohen

Special to the Jewish news


r. Tawfik Hamid, a former
member of the Islamist Jamaal
Islamiah in Egypt, a move-
ment he now describes as evil, told an
audience of more than 300 at the Jewish
Community Center in West Bloomfield on
March 12 that the biggest threat posed by
radical Islam is not a terrorist act but the
threat to freedom.
"We must stand clearly against any
violent teaching that will threaten our
freedom:' he told his largely supportive
audience. "Stopping terrorism is just to
treat the symptoms of the disease, rather
than the disease itself:'
In a wide-ranging talk that was autobio-
graphical, political and theological, Hamid
analyzed Islam and the Muslim world,
calling for a reinterpretation of the Koran.
He said, "Islam can be understood in a
very peaceful manner" without changing
a word. He added such a reinterpreta-
tion is necessary to promote co-existence
and tolerance rather than domination

26 March 22 2007

and persecution of Jews,
ing the question-and-answer
Christians, and other non-
period. El-Amin said he and
Muslims as well as women,
many other Muslim leaders
gays and apostates.
have condemned terrorism
The former jihadist
and, specifically, the 9-11
turned medical doctor,
psychologist and Islamic
"Why do you come and
scholar says the prob-
speak negatively about Islam?"
lem is aggravated by an
El-Amin asked. "Why did the
unwillingness to criticize
audience just come to hear
Islam and projections of
something negative?"
weakness. He said that if
Hamid challenged the imam
Dr. Tawfik Ha mid
America had responded
to speak positively about Jews
strongly to the bombings
and Christians in "an unam-
of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and
biguous manner." El-Amin responded that
Kenya in the late 1990s "9-11 never would he always does as do others he knows.
have happened."
A man who identified himself as "an
"Concessions will never make you win
American Muslim" calmly told Hamid that
this war. You don't stop tyrants this way:'
some of the things he said "seem incite-
Hamid said, calling for a multi-directional ful" and misrepresented Islam. Hamid
approach employing military, educa-
responded that Islam is good, but top
tional, financial and ideological resources.
Muslim leaders and universities over-
"Extreme power can bring peace after it.
whelmingly promote hate and violence in
Never make concessions or show weak-
the name of Islam.
Mark Segel, who organized Hamid's
Imam Abdullah El-Amin of the Muslim visit, which included meeting with stu-
Center in Detroit challenged Hamid dur-
dents at the University of Michigan in

Ann Arbor, a leadership lunch and two
radio appearances, was pleased with the
"I want the interaction to take place
Segel said. "I'm glad they came to listen
and to challenge. This is an ideological
battle, and it allowed for another idea to
enter the market of ideas. This is how a
reformation [in Islam] can occur."
Dan Levy, president of the Michigan
Region of the Anti-Defamation League,
a co-sponsor of the event, said he agreed
with about 90 percent of what Hamid said
but was disturbed by his "alienating" state-
ment that all imams are anti-Semitic and
supporters of terrorism.
"If we don't find ways to actively, persis-
tently and unmistakably make it clear that
we are opposed only to jihadist Islam, how
can we expect the rest of Islam to join us?"
Levy said.
Hamid's appearance was sponsored by
the Zionist Organization of America, with
co-sponsors ADL, Herschel Fink and Bert

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