Saturday, April 24, 2004

A local controversy in Hamtramck, Mich., has now surfaced in the national news, with social and cultural implications largely hidden from public view.

The local Muslim community in this Detroit suburb, now estimated at about 20,000 people, persuaded the Town Council to change the “noise law” to permit five area mosques to broadcast over loudspeakers tape recordings of the Islamic muezzin’s adhan, or call to daily prayers — chanted in Arabic.

These 2-minute-long tapes are to be broadcast five times daily, between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and are directly aimed at the Islamic minority, in the middle of what has been a predominantly Polish community.

This move has understandably upset the much larger Christian community, which objects to the invasiveness of these sounds at all hours during the day and evening, in a foreign language and to an unfamiliar deity.

Stripped of its repetition, the adhan declares: “Allahu Akbar (God is most great). I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah. Come to prayer. Come to success. Allahu Akbar. There is no God but Allah.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to predict the reaction of citizens if each of the local Christian churches took to broadcasting the voices of their pastors over loudspeakers throughout the town, exhorting everyone to come to church.

The Muslims say Christian church bells function in the same manner as the muezzin’s call; therefore, they are only doing the same thing within their own religious tradition.

Both these traditions arguably amount to nothing more than noise pollution, no matter how well intended. If local communities are scrupulously to ban Christmas Manger scenes on public property on the grounds of nonendorsement of sectarian belief, why wouldn’t the filling of what are literally the public “airwaves” with amplified sectarian hectoring by religious organizations qualify as government-sponsored propaganda?

The answer, of course, depends on whether the prevailing community beliefs will uphold these public practices. So long as the predominant tradition in Hamtramck was Judeo-Christian, church bells pealing was accepted. Now that the ethnic demographics of the city have changed substantially, a rival belief wants to augment local tradition with its own.

Can you imagine the din of both church bells and the muezzin’s recorded announcement bombarding listeners at the same time? Would you want to walk down a street in Hamtramck and be subjected to this? Church bells or adhan, one man’s call to worship is another man’s noise pollution, or worse, the call of the infidel.

The great danger is this is just another example of the increasing balkanization of American culture. Whether it’s the Cubans in Little Havana in Miami, Mexicans in East Los Angeles, the Rajneeshi in Oregon, Iraqis in Dearborn, Mich. and now the Bangladeshi in Hamtramck, immigrants of different cultures have settled, bringing with them values and beliefs learned in their countries of origin.

The ideal was that in succeeding generations, immigrants would assimilate into the American culture and adopt the language and customs of the host country. Increasingly, however, large numbers of immigrants in these areas have gained enough political power they can enact laws to preserve or enhance their own customs.

In heavily Hispanic areas, for example, Spanish has superseded English usage and has forced local governments to provide bilingual versions of everything, rather than require Spanish speakers to learn English adequately. Corporations now produce advertisements in Spanish directed to this minority audience, and media broadcasters have succumbed to Spanish-only TV and radio stations.

This isn’t assimilation, but balkanization, similar to the Quebecois in Canada. Rather than meld to American culture, the immigrants wish to maintain their foreign culture, have it predominate where they live and identify themselves not with America but their native countries.Some California activist groups even believe that if gain enough political strength, they can claim Southern California back for Mexico: Mexifornia.

Shortsighted liberals love this multicultural brew, but historically it usually breeds nothing but strife among incompatible beliefs and traditions.

Today in Indonesia, far from being moderate, radical Islamists impos their views in those towns and provinces where they can dominate by local support or intimidation. Their aim is to put the entire country under Islamic sharia law.

This concession to the Muslims in Hamtramck has already driven a wedge between various factions in the community. Instead of promoting tolerance, it is beginning to foment resentment. If city leaders truly want to encourage the American melting pot, they should probably prohibit all outdoor noise offenders, bells and chants, and leave any exhortations to soap-box orators.


Mr. Kalellis is a Michigan-based columnist and writer whose articles appear regularly in various local and national print publications, and is a featured pundit for and

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