By Mark Rigstad
Our city’s motto is “The World in Two Square Miles!” because we cherish our tradition of diversity, inclusivity, and toleration of differences.
A tolerant community accepts and respects everyone whose conduct is not criminal, hateful towards others, or directly harmful to others.
Within these limits that exclude criminality, hatred, and harm, every member of this inclusive community deserves acceptance, respect, and recognition in the form of equal representation.
The LGBT Pride flag that is currently flying over Joseph Campau is a symbol of this ideal, the ideal of equity and inclusion that exemplifies what is truly great about our city.
Some opponents of the Pride flag say that it’s like flying the Confederate flag. No. It isn’t. Not even close.
The rebel flag represents racial discrimination, slavery, and armed rebellion against the government, all of which are hateful, harmful, and illegal.
The Pride flag, in contrast, represents the (currently constitutionally protected) rights of mutually consenting people to enjoy pleasure and love however they see fit in private, without disrespecting or harming anyone else.
Some say only flags of nations should be raised to represent the diversity of our city. But Sicilian and native American flags have been flown in the past, so there is precedent for thinking of our diversity in ways that reach beyond the national boundary lines that the history of warfare has arbitrarily drawn upon the globe.
As an extraordinarily diverse city in the heart of a multinational nation, we are not adequately represented by such flags alone. Other, newer flags might also be raised, for example, representing our senior citizens, or our disabled community, to remind us of the full array of neighbors who deserve our acceptance, respect, and support.
You don’t have to rewind the historical clock very far to arrive at a time when flags from Muslim majority nations were not flown in Hamtramck. But the city added new flags because that’s what inclusive representation called for. I first moved to Hamtramck in 2004 when the Muslim call to prayer was controversial.
At that time, it was the progressive members of the community, including many LGBT members, who came to the defense of the religious freedoms of our Muslim brothers and sisters. But now many of the loudest voices of intolerance against LGBT representation in the city invoke the authority of Islamic sharia law and its prohibition against homosexual conduct.
This tension in our city is politically unfortunate. In the broader context of national politics, Hamtramck’s LGBT and Muslim communities should be natural allies because they both face a common enemy in the aggressively homophobic and Islamophobic political right-wing.
Is strategic solidarity possible here?
Yes, but when tolerance and intolerance clash, its intolerance that must yield. The chief fear that right-wing Islamophobes invoke when sounding their political alarms is the menace of Muslims importing sharia law.
Let’s not make their arguments for them by removing the Pride flag from its pole for religious reasons. Show them instead that “Islam is a religion of tolerance” (Abd al-Wāsi al-Ghashīmī and Amīr Fāḍil Saʿd, University of Judayda, Yemen, 2013).
If your religion prohibits homosexual conduct, then refraining from it is between you and your deity. Leave others to manage their own choices.
If you feel like you must judge their conduct, please do so silently while respecting their legitimate presence and representation in our inclusive city.
That’s what it means to be tolerant of others. For Hamtramck to continue to thrive as a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming place, we all should all live by these words of your prophet: “Be tolerant so that others may be tolerant with you (asmiḥū yusmaḥ la-kum).”
(Mark Rigstad is an Associate Professor and Interim Chair of Philosophy Director of the Center for Ethics at Oakland University. He is also a Hamtramck resident.)
Posted July 29, 2022