Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The group to ban alcohol in Hamtramck isn't Muslims

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 6:10 AM

A scene from 1932's Detroit Beer Parade.
  • A scene from 1932's Detroit Beer Parade.

A week ago, the citizens of Hamtramck elected what is believed to be the first majority-Muslim city council. It's something the city's various Muslim communities, ranging from European to Asian to Arab, worked very hard to do, and they can now proudly point to a representative government that not just includes them, but mirrors them. (Observers estimate that Hamtramck may be as much as 50 percent Muslim.)

But practically before people could begin celebrating, speculation was flying that Sharia Law was in the offing. Of course, nothing could be more ridiculous. The winning council members have affirmed publicly that they want to represent all Hamtramckans, not just those who adhere to Islam.

But the actual facts didn't stop some paranoid commenters from insisting that a ban on the sale or consumption of alcohol was in the offing. It wasn't very widespread, but the hunch was put in words on the DetroitYES! website and on more than one comments section. Even an article in the faraway Washington Times had a couple posts about the alleged plot to deprive Hamtramck of beer.

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Of course, the idea that a political group that enjoys power and influence would work to deprive other Americans it doesn't see eye-to-eye with of the right to drink alcohol isn't just conjecture. It's fact. It has happened in this country before. But it wasn't Muslims who did it.

In fact, it was the 100 percent Americans if their day who instituted Prohibition almost 100 years ago. And the campaign for it was tinged with ugly overtones of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism and Protestant fundamentalism (anti-alcohol crusader Carrie Nation said she destroyed bars with her hatchet because God told her to). It was also a time of rampant Germanophobia, of paranoia about Central European reds and socialists, and the one thing Germans and Poles and other "ethnic" Europeans had in common was a love of beer. In fact, beer halls played a large role in social and neighborhood gatherings for those ethnic groups, and it's no secret that the Volstead Act really socked it to these despised minorities.

It's hard to imagine today, when German is the most commonly claimed ancestry in Michigan, but there was a time when white Anglo-Saxon Protestants rode high in the saddle. Envision a time when patriots called Germans “the hun” and dubbed all-American hamburgers “liberty sandwiches” to avoid any mention of Hamburg. Companies, streets and even towns with German names were changed to English- and American-sounding ones. Prevailing WASP prejudices were instrumental in everything from declaring war on Germany to Prohibition to the fact that Detroit frankfurters were named after Coney Island instead of the German city. Those same prejudices condemn many of the counties of the American South to prohibit alcohol to this day, thankyouverymuch, and no American bellowing about Islam raises a peep about that kind of enforced sobriety.

So, let's face it: Whisperings about Hamtramck going dry are flapdoodle. Nobody is going to declare Prohibition there.

What really going on here is an interesting cultural game called "blaming the victim." Across the country,  Muslims have been vilified, spat upon, and protested against. And yet there is no evidence that they want to impose their religious views on others. And in international politics, Muslims have often been the victims, not the aggressors, of the important decisions of the day. They take native-born Americans at their word that they're about providing a safe harbor for the endangered and repressed of the world, and that's why they're here.

So much for the facts. Perhaps, in the end, it's the fact that many people who want to impose their views upon this community believe that, were the tables turned, they'd do the same to them. In other words, it takes an unreasonable person to come to an unreasonable conclusion.

Thanks goodness Hamtramck's Muslim council members are eminently more reasonable.


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