In January, the city of Hamtramck, Michigan, became the first municipality in the United States to be governed entirely by Muslim Americans. Mayor Amer Ghalib was sworn into office with an all-Muslim city council on January 2, after promising to represent the entire community, “no matter your faith, your background, who you love, or your political views.”
Yet, Hamtramck’s new mayor does not live up to his inclusive pledge. Ghalib’s Facebook account includes deeply racist, anti-black statements. He viciously mocked black justice demonstrations and endorsed a comment that referred to African Americans as “animal” and “inhuman.”
Alarmingly, Ghalib’s social media history even appears to include an admission of serious voter fraud.
In other posts, Hamtramck’s mayor insults Arab world leaders he holds in low regard by claiming they have “become Jewish,” and he “liked” a comment referring to Jews as “monkeys” who levy taxes on “the air we breathe.” Describing Christians, Ghalib used an Arabic pejorative word and wrote that “Jews and Nazarenes” have “only been content with Arab kings and despots.” Yet, he has defended Middle Eastern dictators, including a genocidal war criminal, and offered praise to hardline Islamist sects and organizations.
Ghalib, who is very active on social media, posted these offensive messages in the months leading up to his 2020 mayoral campaign, when most of his bigoted and extreme statements suddenly stopped. Nevertheless, the mayor’s recent social media history seriously calls into question his suitability for public office.
The 42-year-old Yemeni immigrant is Hamtramck’s first non-Polish mayor in the city’s 100-year history after defeating incumbent mayor Karen Majewski last November. He is a political novice who credits his victory, in part, to “young people from the Salafi movement,” an ultraconservative strain of Sunni Islam, who “urged the people” to elect him.
Bangladeshi and Yemeni families began immigrating to Hamtramck in recent decades, and Muslims now make up as much as 50 percent of the city, according to some estimates. Thanks to a controversial city ordinance, the call to Islamic prayer is blasted over loudspeakers and reverberates through Hamtramck’s densely-packed neighborhoods.
Despite leading a city council that does not represent Hamtramck’s diverse citizenry, the new mayor said he plans to “represent and serve ALL corners of our community.”
However, Ghalib mocked African Americans following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. On June 1, 2020, he posted an offensive online image of a black man carrying an excessive quantity of liquor, his pockets bulging and pants sagging low from the presumably stolen spirits.
Ghalib invented captions for the African American subject and a nearby Asian onlooker: “After the protests and robbing it’s as if the black man is saying, ‘We’ve done our duty and now we’ll take our sabar,’” he wrote, explaining that “sabar” means “essential food” in an ancient Yemeni language.
“And the Asian looks at him and says: ‘Is this the reason we came out [protested], Mr. Heineken?’” Ghalib wrote.
The implication from the mayor’s post, it seems, is that black Americans justified the looting of businesses by claiming that they only took what was necessary for their survival – in this case, gallons of hard liquor. To make matters worse, he “liked” several cruel and bigoted comments made in response to his post.
“This violence showed their [African Americans] animal and inhuman instincts, and they will never behave unless they are governed by law, force, and the police who know them very well,” reads one comment. “Black people celebrate their day like there’s no tomorrow, but the most important thing for them is alcohol,” another commenter wrote. Ghalib endorsed both statements by “liking” them,
While he responded to Floyd’s death with bigotry, Ghalib’s future constituents in Hamtramck united in support of black justice and police accountability, holding a rally in front of a Bangladeshi-owned restaurant and marching on city hall. Muslim American lawmakers and candidates joined their African American neighbors in solidarity, denouncing police violence and black oppression.
Hamtramck’s black community has experienced discrimination from the city before, when successive mayors oversaw urban renewal projects in the 1960s that forced out many black families. Perhaps to atone for these injustices, Hamtramck opened its doors to Muslim refugees and economic migrants, but this only further marginalized the black vote and may have stifled black political representation.
One of the most disturbing discussions captured from Ghalib’s social media history is laced with anti-Semitic invective. It also may amount to involvement in a serious crime.
In a March 8, 2020, Facebook post discussing the Democratic primaries, Ghalib begins by theorizing that, “Maybe this unprecedented excitement among Arabs and Muslims in the state of Michigan about the Jewish Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders will stir Americans’ rage. It’ll make them back the nomination of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, just to spite Muslims and Arabs.”
Ghalib’s fear that Michigan Democrats would rush to the polls merely to thwart the Muslim vote prompted him to act. “I did my duty and voted early for Sanders. There were twenty people around me planning to vote for Biden because they loved Obama (since Biden was Obama’s VP),” he explained.
“I got them to vote for Sanders and did their families’ ballot cards myself. Pray for the Jewish guy, don’t let him down,” wrote Ghalib, adding three laughing emojis, apparently to signal irony regarding his support for a Jewish politician.
Under Michigan election laws, “A person present while an absent voter is voting an absent voter ballot shall not suggest or in any manner attempt to influence the absent voter on how he or she should vote.” Each offense is punishable as a felony.
Hamtramck’s mayor is a student and admirer of radical Islamist movements, including Salafism, a Sunni revivalist tradition that is often associated with violence and terrorism, although many adherents are political quietists who avoid confrontation with government authorities. “Most of my sheikhs and teachers whom I learned from are from the Salafi movement, and I am proud of that and they hold a high position for me,” he wrote on Facebook.
Additionally, the mayor has glorified the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamist, activist brand of Sunni Islam responsible for violence and radicalization around the world. His other role models appear to include “the Martyr Saddam Hussein,” Iraq’s late genocidal dictator, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom Ghalib praises for agitating against the West.
Ghalib’s Islamist beliefs may explain why there were no women at his election victory party. The newly-elected mayor told CNN that women from his community “don’t go out at night mostly” as “part of the culture,” adding that “there is still some segregation even when they attend [events].” As a mayoral candidate, Ghalib opposed flying a gay pride flag in a city park, and he claimed that a 2008 Human Rights Ordinance (subsequently overturned) meant to protect LGBT residents created “constant conflict among people.”
Last year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged three individuals with election-related offenses, including allegations of filling out absentee ballots on behalf of relatives and elderly persons. “We will not hesitate to prosecute anyone – regardless of political party – who attempts to undermine our elections,” Nessel said.
However, state authorities have responded with indifference when presented with links and images that show Hamtramck’s mayor admitting to influencing voters and filling out their ballots. In fact, an investigator at the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office was apparently unaware of state laws forbidding anyone from influencing an absentee voter in the process of filling out their ballot.
“That’s just politics, you know that,” said Christopher Jahnke, manager for the Office of Investigative Service at the Fraud Division of the Michigan Secretary of State. Jahnke would not confirm if his office would initiate a formal investigation, or at least question Mr. Ghalib about his actions during the 2020 presidential primary.
Meanwhile, an agent at the FBI’s field office in Detroit responded to a complaint about Ghalib’s potentially incriminating social media post but declined to confirm whether the FBI was investigating.
Even without evidence of possible voter fraud, Ghalib’s hateful online commentary should disqualify him from public service and calls for his resignation should begin with Hamtramck’s historic city council.
Benjamin Baird is director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.
Hany Ghoraba is a writer for Islamism in Politics.