Trump and Muslims: Politico in-depth piece misses key questions about Muslim-led city

Politico's indepth story on Hamtramck, Mich., makes much of the fact that it's the only American city with a Muslim-majority government. So how many Muslims does it quote?

Just five. Out of 13 quoted sources.

"What America’s Only Muslim-Governed City Thinks of Donald Trump," the headline teases us. Politico paints Hamtramck as a model of diversity and acceptance, with Poles, Ukrainians, Albanians, black Americans and other folks besides Middle Easterners. Just the kind of place that Trump -- with his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration message -- says would erode American values.

OK, that's a valid starting thesis -- for an editorial or an opinion column, rather than the newsfeature this was supposed to look like. But the Muslim subjects in question aren’t even quoted until more than halfway down this 2,600-word story.

And the argumentative theme starts in the second paragraph:

After a November 2015 election, four of the City Council’s six seats are now held by Muslims—three of them immigrants—making Hamtramck’s council the first in the United States with a Muslim majority. Predictably—if ridiculously—the city has become a lightning rod among conservatives in fear of Islamic law erupting in America. At a recent talk in Boston, a Somali women’s-rights activist named Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned an audience of academics and real estate developers that Hamtramck’s City Council would soon bring Sharia to their American backyard.
But here in Hamtramck, on the eve of a Michigan primary in which Donald Trump is ahead in the polls by double digits, residents aren’t afraid that their city is about to suddenly establish a foothold for the caliphate. They’re more afraid of the Republican Party’s front-runner. "It’s unbelievable Donald Trump has made it this far," says friend and resident Aaron Foley, who is gay, African-American and the editor of a Detroit lifestyle magazine called Blac. "It really feels like a bad dream that we haven’t woke up from yet. This can’t happen. It upsets me that he’s made so many disparaging remarks, not just about Muslims, but about everyone."

That's right. In this story about Muslim-ruled Hamtramck, the first quote is from a non-Muslim who doesn't even work in town. Would have been interesting to get a quote also from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, instead of lobbing a glancing reference. The writer might have learned that she's an atheist, not a card-carrying conservative. Also that she's been under death threats for years for opposing Muslim extremists. So whether Hirsi Ali is accurate about Shariah, she speaks from experience.

But back to our story. To show the broadly diverse population. Politico calls Hamtramck a microcosm of the future America. And the article has some truly enlightening facts. It points out that most Arabs in came to Hamtramck legally, and that some are Christians -- one Iraqi man even shows a cross tattoo on his arm. Even among undocumented immigrants there, Politico says, many are Ukranian Orthodox and other Eastern European Christians.

Still, you have to wonder how well the publication knows the territory if it places Detroit's Iraqi Chaldeans among Arab immigrants. Chaldeans themselves say they are a distinct ethnic group from Arabs.

After a long narrative on Hamtramck's hard times and economic woes -- it's in state receivership for the second time just this century -- Politico gets to some actual Muslims.  Yasser Ali, a Palestinian-American, complains about Muslims being singled out:

"The Unabomber was Polish," Yasser points out, adding that no one got mad at Polish people because of him. "If you are a Muslim, it means you’ve given yourself to God," he says. "The people who murder are terrorists. You can’t be a terrorist and a Muslim."

Non-Muslim neighbors back them up. A record store owner rolls his eyes at being asked about the Muslim-dominated city council; "I don’t see it as any different than a having an all Polish City Council. It’s not like Sharia law was brought in." Oh, and he says Trump is "the biggest turd on the planet."

The most substantive quote here is from the only Muslim city council member quoted by Politico:

"I am an American before I am a Muslim," says Hamtramck’s most recent city councilor, Saad Almasmari, a native of Yemen. "I don’t understand why people keep talking about the Muslim city council. It was a political election, not a religious one." He stresses that he seeks to represent all of Hamtramck residents, in accordance with local laws and the Constitution, regardless of their culture or religion. His goal, he says, isn’t to make the city Muslim but to "bring more financial resources to the city." If there’s someone who "is against American values and the American dream," says Almasmari, it is not Hamtramck’s city council—it’s Trump. "This country," he says, "was built by different immigrants, with different religions."

Other quotes kind of meander. A Bangladeshi waiter says he believes Trump is "exposing the racism people feel in the South." Hmmm? South Hamtramck? South Michigan? Seems off topic.

And a hijab-clad woman asks why people worry only when Muslims are the majority on a city council: "No one is concerned when it’s a majority Christian. But as soon as someone is not white …" Hmmm #2. Is she confusing color with religion?

And maybe it's because Politico is, well, political; but the article seems blissfully silent on religious and social differences that can spill over into politics. The writer enthuses on the availability of sausages in Hamtramck, asking idly if it's available made to halal standards. But she never gives an answer -- any more than she asks how Muslims feel about the sale of pork, which is forbidden in Islam.

Nor does she ask Aaron Foley, the magazine editor, how many people in Hamtramck know his sexual orientation and if he has ever experienced prejudice about it. If Islamic teachings are definite on anything, it's opposition to homosexuality.

Finally, Politico didn’t ask a follow-up question to Yasser Ali. When the writer asked about Bernie Sanders, "Yasser said he didn’t know Sanders was Jewish: "There is no way he can get in. The Jews are still not liked in this country."  The logical follow-up: "How about Muslims in Hamtramck? Do you believe they might not vote for him because of his Jewish heritage?"

Statewide, of course, the people of Michigan have spoken. In the Republican primary, Trump won 36.5 percent of the votes, nearly 11 points more than second-place Ted Cruz.

A final note: A paragraph at the end says that Valerie Vande Panne, the article's writer, is "director of communications at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition." Thumbs up for fessing up to the vested interest. But why not add that fact under the byline? It would have affected the way we read the story. Unless that’s why it wasn't done?

Thumbnail image: Donald Trump at a New Hampshire Town Hall on August 19, at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H. Photographer: by Vadon. Used by permission via Wikimedia.

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