Boulder’s sad siblings


When the scheme to establish a “sister city” relationship between Boulder and the Palestinian city of Nablus came to light 15 months ago, I wrote a column suggesting that wouldn’t be a good idea because Nablus, and the An Najah University located in Nablus, “were bubbling cesspools of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and jihad.”

Since a formal request to establish the relationship has now been made to the City Council, let’s revisit some of the particulars from that piece.

Item: On Sept. 11, 2001, as 3,000 people were being incinerated in jet fuel or ground into bloody bits of meat by the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center, the residents of Nablus were staging a howling, horn-honking, ululating celebration of the attacks and passing around celebratory trays of sweets and tea.

Item: A few weeks later, students at An Najah University put up an elaborate display celebrating the suicide bombing at the Sbarro Pizza restaurant in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001, which killed 15, including half a dozen children, and wounded 130 more. High points of the display, which was so offensive that Yasser Arafat personally ordered it closed, included a re-creation of the restaurant with body parts and pizza slices strewn across the room. It also depicted a Palestinian behind a rock placed in front of a mannequin of an ultra-Orthodox Jew, with a taped recording broadcast on loudspeakers intoning “O believer, there is a Jewish man behind me. Come and kill him.”

Item: Up until October of last year, 14 of the 15 members of the Nablus City Council were affiliated with Hamas. They were elected in 2005. Today, following Palestinian Authority-sponsored local elections held last Oct. 24, there are no Hamas members on the Nablus City Council. That’s progress, after a fashion, but it probably has more to do with the fact that Hamas chose to boycott the elections, which were held under the sponsorship of the rival Palestinian Authority, than with any shift toward moderation.

Item: According to the Anti- Defamation League, in 2011 the An Najah student council was composed “of student groups known to be affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” It said the council “is known for its advocacy of anti-Israel violence and its recruitment of Palestinian college students into terrorist groups,” and that it “glorifies suicide bombings and propagandizes for jihad against Israel.” Hamas itself gives that characterization a big amen. It called An Najah a “greenhouse for martyrs.”

With a rap sheet like that, you would think that the idea of “sistering” with Nablus would be rejected out of hand. But when it comes to sister cities, Boulder is the girl who can’t say no to weird sisters.

At least three of Boulder’s sister cities — Dushanbe in Tajikistan, Lhasa in Tibet and Kisumo in Kenya — have all been the scene of ethnic violence that rises to the level of crimes against humanity.

Both the Sister Cities Committee and the Boulder City Council have responded to such events with a profound indifference that would make Kitty Genovese’s neighbors proud.

In the case of Dushanbe, the city that gave Boulder the teahouse, ethnic rioting in 1990 that initially targeted a small group of Armenian refugees morphed into a five-year civil war that killed 50,000 to 100,000 people, displaced more than 1.2 million, and left the country in ruins. I don’t recall anyone involved in the Sister Cities Project or the city government ever even acknowledging that anything out of the ordinary was going on.

In the case of Lhasa, there was even a grotesque incident in the 1980s in which the puppet mayor of Lhasa was being entertained by the mayor of Boulder at City Hall while Chinese troops were shooting down protestors in the streets of Lhasa. Nothing was said, of course, either about the unpleasantness in Lhasa, or about China’s decades-long campaign to erase traditional Tibetan culture, language and religion. No one in city government or on the Sister Cities Committee, or any Boulder newspaper, saw anything wrong with that picture.

As for Kisumo, two weeks before Kenya’s presidential election last March, Kenyan police reported that “hate leaflets” were circulated in the neighborhoods of the city’s dominant Luo tribe, urging Luos to chase away (ethnically cleanse) Kisumu residents from the Kikuyu tribe. No one around here bothered to say anything about that either. When it comes to sister cities in Boulder, it’s just 24/7 happy talk.

When it comes to sister cities, Boulder’s “sisters” are more like the mad aunts in the attic, and their little peccadilloes are treated with the same sort of discretion.

Sister cities proponents will tell you that the program is supposed to be non-political (which it isn’t), and that it encourages “people-to-people” contact and understanding. They’ll also tell you that sistering and engaging with folks who don’t necessarily share your values is a good thing, not a bad one, because it builds understanding.

And that’s all well and fine in theory, but the truth is that when you run with dogs you get fleas. Boulder’s sister cities are chock full of people who ought to be hauled before the International Criminal Court. When you establish people-to-people relationships with such folks you run the risk of turning yourself into an enabler of their pathologies — especially if you choose to ignore them. Which is exactly what Boulder will do with Nablus if it brings it into the weird sisterhood.

Respond: This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.