Western media coverage of Kunming’s terror attack shows sheer mendacity and heartlessness
People’s Daily Online
March 04, 2014
While China grieved and expressed its outrage following the savage stabbing of innocent civilians by Xinjiang separatists at the crowded railway station in southwest China’s Kunming Saturday night, some Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, were already presenting their audiences and their readership with a distorted view of events.
The terrorist attack that occurred on Saturday night at the train station in southwest China’s Kunming city left at least 29 innocent civilians dead and more than 130 injured. The deadly attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces. This was an act of terrorism directed against the whole of humanity, civilization and society.
The international community strongly condemned this cruel attack, but the coverage of the incident by a few Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Washington Post was dishonest and appeared to be directed by ulterior motives. Emanating from such loud advocates of « the fight against terrorism », the coverage was insulting and has led to widespread resentment in China.
There was extensive evidence at the crime scene to leave no doubt that the Kunming Railway station attack was nothing other than a violent terrorist crime. But regardless of this evidence, some western media organizations were unwilling to use the word « terrorism » in their coverage. CNN’s report on March 3 put the word « terrorists » in quotation marks, and offered the view that « mass knife attacks » are « not unprecedented » in China. The intention here was to associate this terrorist incident with a number of attacks that occurred in 2010 and 2012, all the more disgusting because these attacks happened at schools, they were conducted by individuals who were clearly mentally disturbed, and their victims were children. None of the perpetrators had any political connections, or any political motives. The Associated Press report used the term « described by the authorities as » to qualify their use of the word « terrorists ». The New York Times and the Washington Post called the terrorists « attackers ».
In their depictions of the background to the attack, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all ignored the significant social progress that has been made in Xinjing, instead focusing on the problem of « relations between China’s ethnic groups ».
Faced with such tragedy and such unambiguous facts, it is a hard-hearted and cynical media that would engage in such hypocrisy. Don’t they love to talk about « human rights »? Did they not see the pictures of innocent victims lying in pools of their own blood? Did they show even the slightest concern for the victims and their « human rights »? Should such an event occur in America, how would they respond to the incident? Would they be quite so coy about describing the murderers as « terrorists »?
Prejudice has long been deep-rooted among Americans observers of issues related to Xinjiang. Not so very long ago, the American government passed three Uyghur prisoners detained in Guantanamo Bay to Slovakia, despite China’s opposition. These suspects are all members of an group called the « East Turkistan Islamic Movement », recognized by the UN Security Council as a terrorist organization. For far too long the American government’s logic has been that such people are only « terrorists » when the harm they are doing is being done to the US. The US government has always refused to describe bloody incidents involving Xinjiang separatists as « terrorist incidents »; it prefers to direct its criticism towards China. The American government’s sympathetic attittude to Xinjiang separatists has undoubtedly provided the terrorist shadow of these groups with a boost. Should not the American government and its media revise their attitudes after the Kunming Railway Station tragedy?
On the issue of terrorism and terrorists, the double standards adopted by the United States and some Western media organizations cause actual harm to others, while providing them with neither benefit nor credit. They would do well to hope that their conduct and their attitudes do not ever rebound back on themselves.
The article is edited and translated from 《十足的虚伪与冷酷》, source: People’s Daily, author: Wen Xian.
« Il n’est plus concevable de mépriser les électeurs du FN »
FIGAROVOX/CHRONIQUE- Pour Philippe Bilger, le résultat des élections régionales signe l’échec de la méthode incantatoire utilisée, par la gauche, contre le Front National.
Le FN, contrairement à ce qu’a dit Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, n’était pas surcoté mais sous-coté.
Les scores que ce parti a fait dès le premier tour dans les treize régions ne devraient plus permettre les illusions ni les dénonciations, qui ont eu l’effet contre-productif de le faire progresser encore plus. Dans ce registre, difficile de faire plus indécent que la déclaration de Pierre de Saintignon assimilant «les extrémistes» aux «salafistes».
Le FN est le premier parti de France devant LR et même si le parti socialiste sauve les meubles au regard de sa déroute annoncée, il va se trouver confronté durant la semaine à un choix décisif et d’une certaine manière mauvais dans toutes ses options.
Avant même le second tour, un certain nombre de constats sont à faire qui devraient conduire à une révision lucide de la manière dont la lutte contre le FN est menée puisque la démonstration est faite que tout ce qui a prétendu l’accabler l’a servi.
La participation est en hausse. Grâce à la création de ces treize régions qui vont offrir des pouvoirs considérables à leur président. Grâce au fait qu’étant les dernières élections avant l’échéance présidentielle, les régionales ont été liées à elle. Et bien évidemment, les terribles événements du 13 novembre, précédés par un relatif immobilisme depuis le mois de janvier, ont pesé.
La remontée dans les sondages du président de la République n’a eu rigoureusement aucun impact sur le premier tour des régionales. Ce qui montre à quel point les interventions de François Hollande, aussi remarquables qu’elles ont été ces derniers jours, sont radicalement déconnectées des mouvements profonds du pays, de ses angoisses et de ses attentes.
A l’encontre du FN, il n’est plus possible de se goberger avec les mots «République, valeurs, principes, démocratie, honte, nauséabond, Vichy…». Il faut impérativement se pencher sur les ressorts qui détournent des partis classiques et incitent un grand nombre de citoyens à voter en faveur de cette force facilement qualifiée de non républicaine et d’extrémiste.
Il n’est plus concevable, comme récemment je l’ai lu dans un éditorial du Monde, à la fois de mépriser les électeurs du FN et de n’inviter à résister que par des pétitions de principe qui se gardent bien de démontrer ce qu’on énonce comme irréfutable.
Continuer à ressasser contre le FN le discours habituel serait d’autant plus préjudiciable à la cause démocratique qu’on ne peut traiter avec cette désinvolture et cette arrogance un parti qui non seulement n’est plus le groupuscule de l’extrême droite qu’on aurait rêvé qu’il demeurât mais qu’il est devenu le premier parti français avec des millions d’électeurs en sa faveur.
Le président de la République est le premier responsable de cet aveuglement. En effet, on ne peut en même temps s’afficher en chef de guerre à l’extérieur et à l’intérieur contre le terrorisme mais maintenir la garde des Sceaux et donc sa politique pénale calamiteuse qui sont directement au cœur de la protestation majoritaire, cohérente et aussi éruptive contre le pouvoir socialiste.
Continuer à ressasser contre le FN le discours habituel serait d’autant plus préjudiciable à la cause démocratique qu’on ne peut traiter avec cette désinvolture et cette arrogance un parti qui non seulement n’est plus le groupuscule de l’extrême droite qu’on aurait rêvé qu’il demeurât mais qu’il est devenu le premier parti français avec des millions d’électeurs en sa faveur.
Les avancées du FN sont d’autant à considérer que puisque jamais la proportionnelle promise ne sera adoptée, les régions constitueront des médiations pour 2017. Et, en effet, des laboratoires. Pour le pire, clament tous ses adversaires.
Je n’ai pas cette habitude mais les propos de Nicolas Sarkozy m’ont semblé représenter la voie à suivre puisqu’une projection sur les présidentielles de 2017 mettraient face à face Marine Le Pen et le vainqueur de la primaire LR de 2016.
Ni retrait ni fusion pour le second tour des régionales.
La défaite de la gauche – je regrette que Stéphane Le Foll, d’habitude mieux avisé, parle d’elle et de ses composantes réunies comme du premier parti de France! – est la conséquence principale du fait que la République, son autorité et le respect qu’on lui doit sont perçus comme de plus en plus menacés, voire contredits.
Nicolas Sarkozy a évoqué avec l’estime démocratique qui convient tous les citoyens qui ont permis, pour le FN, ce premier tour qui dépasse ses espérances: il n’est pas impossible, en effet, que dimanche prochain trois régions tombent dans son escarcelle politique.
Ni insultes ni slogans ni abstractions généreuses, creuses et inefficaces mais la démonstration claire que le FN ne représentera jamais, aujourd’hui et demain, une chance opératoire pour les régions comme pour la France. Qu’il ne faut pas le récuser parce qu’il ne serait pas dans notre espace républicain alors qu’il y est en plein mais au motif prépondérant que ses propositions aggraveraient le sort de notre pays.
On n’a pas à traîner dans la boue politiquement et médiatiquement un parti que beaucoup de nos concitoyens ont décidé de placer en tête, parce qu’ils en ont assez de tout ou du socialisme, ou parce que certains y croient.
Mais à expliquer pourquoi il ne serait pas l’avenir et que ce qu’il porte de positif sur le plan de l’ordre, de la sécurité, de la justice, de la rigueur de l’Etat, LR sera le seul parti à pouvoir le mettre en œuvre.
Voter pour le FN est un cri, une rage.
La politique de LR, si j’ai bien saisi Nicolas Sarkozy, ce sera d’en faire, sur un certain plan, des actions.
Jean Christophe Cambadélis : « Le FN c’est le retour de Vichy »
03 Décembre 2015<
PS. A trois jours du premier tour des élections régionales, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis tente d’endiguer la poussée du FN et dénonce sa stigmatisation envers la population musulmane.
Le Premier secrétaire du parti socialiste Jean-Christophe Cambadélis semble ne pas avoir digéré les récentes déclarations des candidats FN aux régionales. « C’est un véritable festival » s’est-il indigné lors d’un point presse tenu ce jeudi. « Il y a une volonté de stigmatisation dans tous les discours, sous Vichy c’était les juifs, aujourd’hui c’est les musulmans » a-t-il ajouté en faisant référence aux récents discours de Marine le Pen et sa nièce Marion-Maréchal Le Pen.
« Une vision particulière de la patrie »
Cette dernière avait notamment déclaré ce mardi à Toulon que « Chez nous, on ne vit pas en djellaba, on ne vit pas en voile intégral et on n’impose pas des mosquées cathédrales ». Le lendemain, la présidente du front National avait affirmé, à l’occasion d’un meeting de campagne à Nîmes, que « si nous perdons la guerre (…) la charia remplacera notre constitution ».
Craignant l’ouverture de « la chasse aux musulmans », Jean-Christophe Cambadélis juge que « la nature profonde de ces déclaration, c’est le retour de Vichy, la même attitude face à l’adversité, (…) les mêmes thèmes qui étaient hier déployés, sur la famille, sur une vision particulière de la patrie ».
Le député de Paris a également appelé à la mobilisation alors qu’à trois jours du scrutin, Marion Maréchal Le Pen caracole en tête des sondages en Paca tout comme Marine Le Pen dans la région Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie.
Israël face au terrorisme (par Jean-Pierre Lledo – cinéaste)
Posted by Shraga Blum
novembre 29, 2015
Chaque jour s’allonge la liste des victimes juives, et beaucoup d’entre elles succombent. Si la fréquence des attaques est plus élevée à Jérusalem et dans le Goush Etsion, elles se produisent dans tout Israël. Les victimes sont choisies au faciès, juif. Même si déjà deux Arabes ont eu le tort de trop ressembler à des Juifs.
La particularité de cette nouvelle vague de terrorisme, c’est la forte implication des mineurs. Les civils avaient servi de boucliers humains au Hamas l’été 2014. Cette fois la lâcheté des dirigeants palestiniens franchit un nouveau pas : elle encourage le sacrifice de sa propre jeunesse. Ces dirigeants qui se sont empressés de condamner les auteurs du carnage parisien cautionnent, encouragent et sans aucun doute organisent cette entreprise quotidienne d’assassinats.
« L’Intifada individuelle durera jusqu’à la libération de Jérusalem », vient de déclarer devant des responsables religieux, le chef du Hamas à Gaza Ismaïl Hanyeh, ce qui prouve bien qu’Al Aqsa n’a été qu’un prétexte et n’a servi que de détonateur. Moins francs, Mahmoud Abbas et son clan, se contentent d’inciter au meurtre contre les Juifs, de décerner des médailles d’héroïsme aux assassins et des pensions à leurs familles. Mais pour les uns comme pour les autres, les objectifs sont communs : radicaliser de plus larges couches actuellement encore spectatrices, répandre l’insécurité parmi les Juifs, ‘’creuser un fossé’’ de plus en plus large entre juifs et arabes israéliens, et redessiner de nouvelles frontières qui seraient des frontières (ethnico-religieuses) de la peur.
Face à cette nouvelle stratégie de la violence que fait Israël ?
Ses dirigeants tentent d’en appeler à la solidarité occidentale en insistant sur une communauté de destin de peuples qui seraient ciblés par le même djihadisme. Si cela n’est pas complètement faux, cela n’est pas totalement vrai : le monde musulman n’a jamais accepté une souveraineté juive sur un territoire qu’il considère irréversiblement musulman depuis la conquête mahométane et impériale du 7eme siècle… Les ‘’Palestiniens’’ n’étant aujourd’hui que le bras armé de cet irréductible refus.
Vouloir ‘’universaliser’’ le terrorisme et gommer les différences, n’est pas très payant, puisque le Président Hollande s’est abstenu de citer les Juifs d’Israël dans sa liste des victimes du terrorisme djihadiste international. Mais surtout, tenter de dissimuler la spécificité du terrorisme palestinien, risque de fourvoyer et d’entretenir des illusions.
La parade des autorités israéliennes est essentiellement sécuritaire et de type dissuasive, mais croire que cela puisse réduire les candidats au passage à l’acte, lesquels savent qu’ils ont toutes les chances de périr, serait ne pas comprendre ce qu’est le ‘’martyre’’, ni mesurer ce qu’est la haine antijuive dans l’univers musulman.
Cette banalisation transforme une véritable guerre en routine, ‘’routine’’ qui peut s’éterniser et à coup sûr, démoraliser. Mais surtout empêche de mener cette guerre de façon offensive, compte tenu que les objectifs des autorités palestiniennes et de leurs représentants à la Knesset ne sont pas publiquement désignés.
L’Europe commence à comprendre qu’elle est ‘’en guerre’’, mais le peuple d’Israël, lui, sait qu’il l’est et ce, depuis des lustres.
Quand ses représentants politiques se comporteront-ils en fonction de cette réalité ?
La France vient de se mettre en deuil national. Mais en Israël, combien faudra-t-il encore de morts pour que la nation toute entière manifeste sa solidarité avec les victimes et leurs familles ? La gauche certes ne se mobilise qu’en faveur des Arabes, mais la droite où est-elle ?
Qu’attend le gouvernement pour saisir le Tribunal international (CPI) à l’encontre des dirigeants palestiniens qui manifestement manipulent les candidats au paradis et dirigent en sous-main la vague actuelle d’assassinat des Juifs ?
Qu’attend la Knesset pour faire de la condamnation du terrorisme LA condition pour y siéger ?
Et alors que l’Europe commence à comprendre qu’elle récolte ce qu’elle a semé, en abandonnant peu à peu ses frontières et son identité, n’est-il pas temps pour le peuple juif d’Israël et ses représentants d’informer le monde que lui y tient ? A ses 3500 ans d’histoire et aux valeurs du judaïsme.
Et par exemple, en commençant par rétablir la souveraineté israélienne sur le Mont du Temple.
La guerre faite au peuple juif par le monde musulman, comme plus tôt par le monde chrétien, a été une guerre d’oppression et d’humiliation visant à déraciner le désir juif de se maintenir comme peuple.
Des siècles seront nécessaires au monde musulman pour qu’il admette le fait historique de l’émancipation juive, appelée sionisme et advenue au 20eme siècle par la renaissance de l’Etat d’Israël.
D’ici là, le peuple juif d’Israël n’aura d’autre choix, faute de disparaitre, que de gagner toutes les guerres qu’on lui fera.
A commencer par les plus vitales, celles contre son identité, son histoire et ses symboles.
Car contrairement à ce que certains croient, se nier ou s’édulcorer attisent les instincts meurtriers, tandis que s’affirmer, les contient, voire même pourrait forcer le respect…
Long-Hidden Details Reveal Cruelty of 1972 Munich Attackers
Dec. 1, 2015
In September 1992, two Israeli widows went to the home of their lawyer. When the women arrived, the lawyer told them that he had received some photographs during his recent trip to Munich but that he did not think they should view them. When they insisted, he urged them to let him call a doctor who could be present when they did.
Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, whose husbands were among the Israeli athletes held hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, rejected that request, too. They looked at the pictures that for decades they had been told did not exist, and then agreed never to discuss them publicly.
The attack at the Olympic Village stands as one of sports’ most horrifying episodes. The eight terrorists, representing a branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization, breached the apartments where the Israeli athletes were staying before dawn on Sept. 5, 1972. That began an international nightmare that lasted more than 20 hours and ended with a disastrous failed rescue attempt.
The treatment of the hostages has long been a subject of speculation, but a more vivid — and disturbing — account of the attack is emerging. For the first time, Ms. Romano, Ms. Spitzer and other victims’ family members are choosing to speak openly about documentation previously unknown to the public in an effort to get their loved ones the recognition they believe is deserved.
Among the most jarring details are these: The Israeli Olympic team members were beaten and, in at least one case, castrated.
“What they did is that they cut off his genitals through his underwear and abused him,” Ms. Romano said of her husband, Yossef. Her voice rose.
“Can you imagine the nine others sitting around tied up?” she continued, speaking in Hebrew through a translator. “They watched this.”
Ms. Romano and Ms. Spitzer, whose husband, Andre, was a fencing coach at the Munich Games and died in the attack, first described the extent of the cruelty during an interview for the coming film “Munich 1972 & Beyond,” a documentary that chronicles the long fight by families of the victims to gain public and official acknowledgment for their loved ones. The film is expected to be released early next year.
In subsequent interviews with The New York Times, Ms. Spitzer explained that she and the family members of the other victims only learned the details of how the victims were treated 20 years after the tragedy, when German authorities released hundreds of pages of reports they previously denied existed.
Ms. Spitzer said that she and Ms. Romano, as representatives of the group of family members, first saw the documents on that Saturday night in 1992. One of Ms. Romano’s daughters was to be married just three days later, but Ms. Romano never considered delaying the viewing; she had been waiting for so long.
The photographs were “as bad I could have imagined,” Ms. Romano said. (The New York Times reviewed the photographs but has chosen not to publish them because of their graphic nature.)
Mr. Romano, a champion weight lifter, was shot when he tried to overpower the terrorists early in the attack. He was then left to die in front of the other hostages and castrated. Other hostages were beaten and sustained serious injuries, including broken bones, Ms. Spitzer said. Mr. Romano and another hostage died in the Olympic Village; the other nine were killed during a failed rescue attempt after they were moved with their captors to a nearby airport.
It was not clear if the mutilation of Mr. Romano occurred before or after he died, Ms. Spitzer said, though Ms. Romano said she believed it happened afterward.
“The terrorists always claimed that they didn’t come to murder anyone — they only wanted to free their friends from prison in Israel,” Ms. Spitzer said. “They said it was only because of the botched-up rescue operation at the airport that they killed the rest of the hostages, but it’s not true. They came to hurt people. They came to kill.”
For much of the past two decades, Ms. Spitzer, Ms. Romano and Pinchas Zeltzer, the lawyer, mostly kept the grisly details to themselves, though at least one prominent report about the images surfaced. When Ms. Romano returned home that first night, she told her daughters the pictures were “difficult” but said they should not ask her more about them. Her daughters agreed.
At various points over the next 20 years, Ms. Romano said, she did make occasional references to the mutilation of her husband, but she always kept the photographs of the episode hidden.
According to Ms. Spitzer, confusion about what had happened to the victims existed from the beginning. The bodies of the victims were identified by family or friends in Munich — Ms. Romano said an uncle of her husband identified his corpse but was shown only his face — and, as per Jewish law, burials were held almost immediately after the bodies were flown back to Israel.
Since much of the attention from Israeli officials after the attacks focused on security breaches and mistakes by German and Olympic officials that had allowed the terrorists to strike, consideration of the plight of the dead victims had been a priority only to their families.
“We asked for more details, but we were told, over and over, there was nothing,” Ms. Spitzer said.
In 1992, after doing an interview with a German television station regarding the 20th anniversary of the attack in which she expressed frustration about not knowing exactly what happened to her husband and his teammates, Ms. Spitzer was contacted by a man who said he worked for a German government agency with access to reams of records about the attack.
Initially, Ms. Spitzer said, the man, who remained anonymous, sent her about 80 pages of police reports and other documents. With those documents, Mr. Zeltzer, the lawyer, and Ms. Spitzer pressured the German government into releasing the rest of the file, which included the photographs.
After receiving the file, the victims’ families sued the German government, the Bavarian regional government and the city of Munich for a “deficient security concept” and the “serious mistakes” that doomed the rescue mission, according to the complaint. The suit was ultimately dismissed because of statute-of-limitations regulations.
Nonetheless, the families have largely focused their efforts on ensuring a place for remembrance of their loved ones in the fabric of the Olympic movement. After decades of lobbying, the victims’ families were heartened when the International Olympic Committee, led by a new president, Thomas Bach, agreed this year to help finance a permanent memorial in Munich. There are also plans to remember the Munich victims at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
At the moment, the victims will be included in a moment of remembrance for all athletes who have died at the Olympics; Ms. Spitzer and Ms. Romano continue to press for the Israeli athletes from Munich to be remembered apart from athletes who died in competition, arguing that their deaths were the result of unprecedented evil.
“The moment I saw the photos, it was very painful,” Ms. Romano said. “I remembered until that day Yossef as a young man with a big smile. I remembered his dimples until that moment.”
She hesitated. “At that moment, it erased the entire Yossi that I knew,” she said.
In the first majority-Muslim U.S. city, residents tense about its future
Sarah Pulliam Baile
November 21 2015
A Muslim woman wears a niqab as she walks past a McDonald’s restaurant in Hamtramck, Mich. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
HAMTRAMCK, MICH. — Karen Majewski was in such high demand in her vintage shop on a recent Saturday afternoon that a store employee threw up her hands when yet another visitor came in to chat. Everyone wanted to talk to the mayor about the big political news.
Earlier this month, the blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendents for more than a century became what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a
It’s the second tipping for Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik), which in 2013 earned the distinction of becoming what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the United States following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade.
In many ways, Hamtramck is a microcosm of the fears gripping parts of the country since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris: The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.
Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski adjusts hats inside her store, Tekla Vintage. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
“It’s traumatic for them,” said Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun.
Around her at the Tekla Vintage store, mannequins showcased dresses, hats and jewelry from the mid-20th century, and customers fingered handbags and gawked at the antique dolls that line the store, which sits across the street from Srodek’s Quality Sausage and the Polish Art Center on Joseph Campau Avenue, the town’s main drag.
Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create an entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor.
And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echos through the city’s streets five times each day.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”
Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear.
Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.
“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes
(22 percent) of any candidate. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”
Past clashes with present
Surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, with about 22,000 residents occupying row after row of two-story, turn-of-the-century bungalows packed into two square miles. Polish Catholic immigrants began flocking to Hamtramck, which was originally settled by German farmers, in 1914 when the Dodge brothers opened an auto assembly plant in town.
While the city’s Polish Catholic population has shrunk from
90 percent in 1970 to about 11 percent today, in part as the old residents have moved to more prosperous suburbs, Polish American culture still permeates the town.
Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski.
A statue of Pope John Paul II in Hamtramck’s Pope Park is a nod to the city’s Polish American beginnings. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
The once-thriving factory town now struggles with one of the highest poverty rates in Michigan. In 2009, American Axle shut down its plant in Hamtramck, laying off hundreds of workers. There is a new class of entrepreneurs, including Igor Sadikovic, a young Bosnian immigrant who plans to open a coffee shop with an art gallery by next summer, and Rebecca Smith, who owns a handbag store that employs Muslim women.
But the new businesses have not been enough to offset the loss of a manufacturing base and reductions in state revenue sharing. Since 2000, Michigan has twice appointed an emergency manager to the city, which has an annual operating budget of $22 million.
Hamtramck’s exceedingly low home prices and relatively low crime rate have proved especially attractive to new immigrants, whose presence is visible everywhere. Most of the women strolling Joseph Campau Avenue wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave only the area around the eyes open. Many of the markets advertise their wares in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers that owners will return shortly — gone to pray, much in the same way Polish businesses once signaled that employees had gone to Mass.
Tensions rise in volume
Many longtime residents point to 2004 as the year they suspected that the town’s culture had shifted irrevocably. It was then that the city council gave permission to al-Islah Islamic Center to broadcast its call to prayer from speakers atop its roof.
From left, Abdul Motlib, president of al-Islah Islamic Center, with secretaries Imam Abunsr Tafader and Masud Khan. “The Polish people think we were invading them,” Khan said. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
The calls to prayer from atop the al-Islah Islamic Center have caused some tension among Hamtramck’s residents. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders, recalling that time in an interview earlier this month. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”
The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day.
The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.
The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent.
The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions, like the Polish festival and Fat Tuesday’s paczki day, soon will be wiped away.
Air Force veteran Mike Bugaj, 61, in front of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 10 in Hamtramck. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
Bugaj holds a political cartoon. The Hamtramck native worries about the loss of Polish traditions in the city. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”
Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests.
“They are clannish and stick together. . . . The jury is out on them.” Little said.
But Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith — the city is about 23 percent Arabic,
19 percent Bangladeshi and 7 percent Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center.
Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.
On a recent Saturday, about
40 people crowded into a one-room studio to sip wine from red Solo cups and enjoy a watercolor exhibition by African American artist Olayami Dabls as reggae music thumped in the background. The nudity and sexuality portrayed in Dabls’s paintings provided a startling contrast that afternoon to the handful of veil-clad Muslim women poring over produce at the Yemeni-owned grocery store visible across the street through the window.
Even some residents who are nervous about the new council speak of the city’s diversity with pride, noting the eclectic mix of restaurants and the fact that at least 27 languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools.
Frank Zacharias, an elderly Polish American usher at St. Ladislaus, the Catholic parish across the street from the mosque, is intimately familiar with life on Hamtramck’s streets, which he tromped for 28 years as a mail carrier before retiring. The changes have stunned him, he said.
“It was hard at the beginning,” he said, referring to 2004, when the mosque began the call to prayer.
But, he added: “They’re human. You gotta live with them. Hamtramck is known for diversity.”
University of Michigan at Dearborn professor Sally Howell, who has written a book on Michigan and U.S. Muslims, said that although some outsiders have equated the election results with “a sharia takeover,” that is not a fear she hears expressed by Hamtramck’s non-Muslims.
It all boils down to “a fear that this city council won’t represent the community,” Howell said. Her own sense, she said, is that it will.
The discord intensified in the weeks before the election, beginning when several senior citizens living in an apartment complex complained about the volume of the 6 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
Susan Dunn, who was on her fifth unsuccessful run for city council, raised the issue before the governing body.
“I have my own rights, as well,” she said while baking her son’s birthday cake in her kitchen. “I’m not a hater. It wasn’t a calculated move.”
At one point as she spoke, a mosque close to Dunn’s house began broadcasting the call to prayer. “You try reading a book in your back yard while your dog is barking to that,” Dunn said, clearly exasperated.
City Council member Saad Almasmari, 28, far right, talks with community members inside a grocery store. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
On the eve of the vote, then-candidate Almasmari sent a photo of a flier he said he had found on the street to Majewski, the mayor, and Dunn. “Let’s get the Muslim out of Hamtramck in November 3rd. Let’s take back our city,” it read. The photo of the flier, which was illustrated with images of three white candidates, including Dunn, began circulating on Facebook. Dunn said she had nothing to do with it.
Then, after the election, a Muslim community organizer upset many residents when he praised the composition of the new council.
“Today, we show the Polish and everybody else,” said Ibrahim Algahim in an address to fellow Muslims that was captured on video.
Muslim community activist Kamal Rahman said he empathizes with the older residents’ concerns and has been working to help unify the town by meeting with city leaders.
Rahman, who in 1986 became one of the first Bengalis to attend a Hamtramck high school, said he considered moving to a mostly white Detroit suburb but decided against it once he discovered that a Ku Klux Klan group also had an address there. Instead, he built a five-bedroom home next to a Yemeni mosque just outside of Hamtramck, and sends his children to charter schools in the city.
Rahman encourages other Muslims to watch their language, because it can seem threatening.
“It sends the wrong message. If I were white, I would feel scared,” he said.
As he sat in a Yemeni restaurant neatly dressed in a blue dress shirt and dark blue striped tie, Almasmari, the council member, recalled feeling shaken in the weeks leading up to the election, when he discovered that dozens of the yard signs touting his candidacy had been spray-painted with an “X.”
On a boarded-up building on the city’s main street, a poster to re-elect council member Anam Miah had been partially covered with big block letters — “DON’T VOTE” — and a swastika was drawn on Miah’s forehead.
But Almasmari insists that longtimers’ fears are unfounded. Already, he said he has scheduled a meeting with residents who wish to talk about their concerns — economic, educational and otherwise.
“People talk about Muslims by talking about ‘them,’ but we’re not going to be as single-minded as people think,” said Almasmari, a married father of three who covered his Facebook profile picture last week with the French flag filter.
Back in her vintage shop down the block, Majewski said she sympathizes with the stories of immigrants in search of a better life. It is a subject the mayor knows something about, having specialized in immigration and ethnicity when she earned her doctorate in American culture at the University of Michigan, said Majewski, who works at UM’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.
A few minutes later, she pointed to a large, vacant building down the street that she said had once housed a popular department store. It was purchased by a Yemeni immigrant and has sat empty for two years, she said.
“It creates a lot of resentment and drags down the property values. That’s a real source of tension,” Majewski said. “Is that ethnic? . . . What do you call that? Can you criticize his lack of action? There’s certainly an ethnic element, the feeling that they don’t care about the city. How do you disentangle those?”
She paused to tell a shopper that the red plaid shirt he was trying on looked like a good fit before concluding aloud that the new conflicts in Hamtramck have less to do with ethnicity and religion and more about to do with what it means to be a good neighbor.
“We live on top of each other,” she said. “You can pass your plate through the window to the person next door.”