I’d normally call this “you get what you vote for,” but not all Muslims are as authoritarian and Puritanical as those on the city council of Hamtramck, Michigan. Actually, the Guardian story, while displaying the homophobia of a group of Muslim-Americans, also has me a bit conflicted, for the law they passed does impose a general ideological neutrality on the city, and I can’t say I disagree with that. Click to read:
Here are the facts:
In 2015, many liberal residents in Hamtramck, Michigan, celebrated as their city attracted international attention for becoming the first in the United States to elect a Muslim-majority city council.
They viewed the power shift and diversity as a symbolic but meaningful rebuke of the Islamophobic rhetoric that was a central theme of then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
This week many of those same residents watched in dismay as a now fully Muslim and socially conservative city council passed legislation banning Pride flags from being flown on city property that had – like many others being flown around the country – been intended to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
Muslim residents packing city hall erupted in cheers after the council’s unanimous vote, and on Hamtramck’s social media pages, the taunting has been relentless: “Fagless City”, read one post, emphasized with emojis of a bicep flexing.
In a tense monologue before the vote, Councilmember Mohammed Hassan shouted his justification at LGBTQ+ supporters: “I’m working for the people, what the majority of the people like.”
CNN says this about the resolution:
Hamtramck’s city council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the controversial resolution, which restricts the city from flying any “religious, ethnic, racial, political, or sexual orientation group flags” on public grounds, according to meeting minutes.
The resolution stipulates that along with the American flag, the city also flies flags “that represent the international character” of the area. It says that “each religious, ethnic, racial, political, or sexually oriented group is already represented by the country it belongs to.”
Thus national flags are permitted to be flown, along with the city flag (if there is one).
Now shouting “Fagless City” is clearly homophobia, and is reprehensible. And its source is clearly religion: the council appears to consist entirely of Muslim males, and the vote was unanimous. Liberals felt betrayed, as they were proud of having elected a city council made up of people of color, who then turned on them and dumped on gay people.
Back to the Guardian:
“There’s a sense of betrayal,” said the former Hamtramck mayor Karen Majewski, who is Polish American. “We supported you when you were threatened, and now our rights are threatened, and you’re the one doing the threatening.”
She’s referring to this:
But Majewski said the majority is now disrespecting the minority. She noted that a white, Christian-majority city council in 2005 created an ordinance to allow the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast from the city’s mosques five times daily. It did so over objections of white city residents, and Majewski said she didn’t see the same reciprocity with roles reversed.
Well, the council hasn’t done anything to threaten gay rights yet (the absence of a flag is not a threat), but the Council blamed gays for this law!
Their talking points mirror those made elsewhere: some Hamtramck Muslims say they simply want to protect children, and gay people should “keep it in their home”.
But that sentiment is “an erasure of the queer community and an attempt to shove queer people back in the closet”, said Gracie Cadieux, a queer Hamtramck resident who is part of the Anti-Transphobic Action group.
Mayor Amer Ghalib, 43, who was elected in 2021 with 67% of the vote to become the nation’s first Yemeni American mayor, told the Guardian on Thursday he tries to govern fairly for everyone, but said LGBTQ+ supporters had stoked tension by “forcing their agendas on others”.
“There is an overreaction to the situation, and some people are not willing to accept the fact that they lost,” he said, referring to Majewski and recent elections that resulted in full control of the council by Muslim politicians.
I’m not sure what “agenda” was being forced on the council save civil rights that gays already enjoy. No other “agenda” is mentioned. But there’s is a backstory of divisiveness here.
On one level, the discord that has flared between Muslim and non-Muslim populations in recent years has its root in a culture clash that is unique to a partly liberal small US city now under conservative Muslim leadership, residents say. Last year, the council approved an ordinance allowing backyard animal sacrifices, shocking some non-Muslim residents even though animal sacrifice is protected under the first amendment in the US as a form of religious expression.
I’m a hard-line First Amendment person, but I don’t think that killing sentient mammals to propitiate one’s god is a valid form of religious expression. Do the goats get a choice? It’s okay, I think, to take peyote if that’s part of your religion, and has been for a while; and that’s what the courts have ruled. But my approbation stops at killing animals who don’t have a say in the process, and I don’t care if animal sacrifice is part of religious rites in some Muslim cultures.
Speaking of legalized substances, Hamtramck tried to ban marijuana use, too, but legalized weed had already passed as a state law, and so Hamtramck was too late:
When Michigan legalized marijuana, it gave municipalities a late 2020 deadline to enact a prohibition of dispensaries. Hamtramck council missed the deadline and a dispensary opened, drawing outrage from conservative Muslims who demanded city leadership shut it down. That ignited counterprotests from many liberal residents, and the council only relented when it became clear it had no legal recourse.
But here’s where my opinion about the homophobia evinced by the Muslim council gets a bit confused (my bolding):
The resolution, which also prohibits the display of flags with ethnic, racist and political views, comes at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under assault worldwide. . . .
First, the ban is only for flags on city property, which constitute an official government statement. I am of course for total gay rights identical to normal civil rights, but putting pro-gay flags on city property is a political statement, much as you may disagree. If you allow that, then you allow all kinds of displays on city property that people might disagree with. What about putting up flags of Christian organizations, or the Confederate flag, or a display of the Ten Commandments? Surely you’d object to those, but free speech demands that if you allow one expression of political sentiments on city property, you must allow them all. (Yes, I know that some U.S. courts have allowed privately-funded displays of Ten Commandments on public property, often on grounds that it’s a “historical and not a religious” statement, but I think they’re dead wrong. Just read the Bible!)
And in fact the resolution could be interpreted, whatever its motivations, as mandating viewpoint neutrality. Again:
The resolution, which also prohibits the display of flags with ethnic, racist and political views, comes at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under assault worldwide,
So, much as we may deplore the homophobia instantiated by this vote, the ban was extended to all flags expressing political and ideological views. It’s really no different from the institutional neutrality of the University of Chicago. It’s one thing to have a statement in the law or in University rules saying the organization doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, which is a good thing to declare, but another thing entirely to publicly celebrate gay rights with flags.
If you allow such celebrations, that you must allow celebrations of all sentiments, and, depending who’s in charge of flags, you might not like some of the stuff being celebrated. Remember that the Confederate flag used to fly over the dome of the Capitol Building of South Carolina, until governor Nikki Haley declared in 2015 that it should be removed, and signed a bill to that effect. It was, of course, celebrating segregation. There are still bad feelings about the flag’s removal, of course.
A Hamtramck councilman expressed this sentiment, though he may well be dissimulating:
The resolution, brought by city council member Mohammed Hassan, says that the city will not provide special treatment to any group of people. City council members shared that flying a Pride flag could potentially lead to other “radical or racist groups” asking for their flags to be flown.
So while I do approve of a resolution that limits flags conveying political or ideological sentiments, I also disapprove of the timing of this resolution, which was clearly meant to convey a homophobic message during Pride Month. And it’s clear that this resolution was at bottom motivated by religious beliefs. But in the end, state governments, like universities, should show political, ideological, and moral neutrality in their public displays. An American and a state or city flag is sufficient.
However, a resolution that demonizes gays, damns Gay Pride Month, or tries to curb LGBTQ+ rights, well, that’s another thing, for that is discrimination.
Feel free to agree or disagree below.