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From the Global Affairs Desk in North Beach
Progressives and Yemenis in San Francisco
By Matt McFetridge

Ali Abu Baker at Yemeni’s Restaurant

I have to be honest. I do not like San Francisco’s progressive politics. Most progressives are not native San Franciscans. They moved here and drank the lefty Kool-Aid, and now promote policies out of touch with mainstream America. Many have views that are totally divergent from the core policies of the Democratic Party, and most of all, they promote a twisted agenda not even close to how people think who work for a living. Think I’m wrong? Check to see how many of the progressive block of the S.F. Board of Supes were born here. Answer – none.

The quite simple truth is native San Franciscans are not out of touch with reality and do work for a living. While many of us are registered Democrats, we actually have Republican friends. We just think the special interests that control the Republicans are more evil than the special interests that control the Democrats. But no native San Franciscan I know champions the rights of criminal illegal aliens who have to get popped doing a felony before being deported; fights for the rights of criminals in cells at Eighth and Bryant who may get hurt in earthquakes; or wants to boot out the JROTC from San Francisco’s high schools because of the DOD’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (I’ve seen gays fight in combat alongside straights with no issues whatsoever). Yeah, great idea, toss at-risk kids out on the streets after school so they can hang with gang members and drug dealers. Teens today are in touch with survival and finding their own sexuality; they don’t need progressives affecting them with a policy that has nothing to do with their lives.

Progressives also don’t like new S.F. Police Chief George Gascón. I do. Working many stories in Los Angeles, I got to know Gascón and he was always available, honest and quotable – a straight shooter. When he arrived here, the progressives were already aligned against him because he’s a Newsom hire. Sorry, I want a police chief who’s going to enforce the law and take a scientific approach to policing like Chief Gascón does, but our demonizing progressives are worried about the health of jail inmates and giving illegal alien felons a free pass. Then, Gascón gave the progressives ammunition.

Although I never saw or heard a quote, some reporters told me the chief did express concern about homegrown terrorists (from the sizeable East Bay Afghan and San Francisco Yemeni communities) using car bombs to blow up high-value targets like federal buildings or City Hall. Bad move, Chief.
Having fired multiple missives at the progressives, there is something about the progressives that I do like. They’re tolerant. They’re not racist. I saw this firsthand at a restaurant on Sutter and Larkin called Yemeni’s Restaurant. Owner Ali Abu Baker has been in San Francisco for more than 40 years, working as a waiter at a famed Broadway eatery. He had always wanted to open a Yemeni restaurant in San Francisco, but was close to retiring, and his bags were packed to go back to Yemen. Queen of Sheba Market owner Galia Ali, another Yemeni, told him of a restaurant space open across from her store, and now his Yemeni’s Restaurant is open for business. That block of Sutter between Larkin and Polk now boasts Saha, an upscale, but not-too-expensive Arabic fusion, Yemeni-owned restaurant; Galia’s market; Ali’s Yemeni’s Restaurant; and a Yemeni mosque down near Polk. Call it Yemen in San Francisco. Unfortunately, there are many parts of America where a Yemeni block of businesses would not survive.

Without camera crews or photographers in tow, Chief Gascón went down and personally met with all the business owners and expressed remorse. None of the business owners wanted to talk about it except saying they appreciated the gesture. But they were hurt by his remarks, make no mistake.
A recent Gallup/USA Today poll suggested that 39 percent of Americans have some prejudice against American Muslims, and 22 percent don’t want Muslims as neighbors. Not here in San Francisco. Ali says he wants all San Franciscans to eat his food, and the night I was there, the only Muslims were his staff. I attribute this to our progressive friends’ lack of racism, and as misguided as I think their policies are, their hearts are in the right place. Huge swaths of America demonize Muslims; San Franciscans do not. Yes, even the nonnative lefty Kool-Aid drinkers. This is something to be proud of here in our fair city, as is our police chief who instead of covering his rear went out to the people he offended and apologized. 

Yemen is easy to demonize, but the Yemenis here are Americans who’ve been working here for decades and face the same issues we all do. They’re us. We’re them. But, at a glance, Yemen currently has a volatile past and shaky future. The USS Cole was blown to bits in Yemen. The Christmas underwear bomber trained in Yemen. A Chicago man was recently caught in Yemen seeking terrorist training. U.S. Special Forces are now training Yemeni forces to fight al Qaida in Yemen, which has become a powerful terrorist training organization as well as a major threat to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Much like Afghanistan when the U.S. armed the Mujahadeen, who fought the Soviets and won, America and its influence left the region. In the sixties, Yemen had a civil war, and the Cold War dictated that we back the royalists against the Soviet- and Egyptian-backed guerillas. Also, much like Afghanistan, when the bloodbath was over and our guys won, we left.
Luckily, that dreadful war brought people like Galia and Ali from Yemen here to San Francisco. The downside is that Cold War policy turned Yemen into an incubator for terrorism with a misguided U.S. policy – much like Afghanistan.

Over a lamb dinner one night with Mr. Ali, he didn’t want to discuss politics. “I’ve been here forty years, I don’t know what’s going on there [in Yemen]. It’s miles away.” Ali looked around his busy restaurant and smiled. The headlines and history don’t bother the patrons who just want good food. “I truck in my vegetables and meat fresh daily from Stockton, and we bake our own bread,” he says.
Yes, as much as the politics here want to make me scream, we San Franciscans, natives and nonnatives, progressives and realists alike, don’t mirror the polls that show how intolerant we’re becoming as Americans. We don’t demonize Muslims. Our police chief did and realized what shoe leather tastes like. San Franciscans don’t do racism. Now that’s an “out of touch with mainstream America” issue I applaud.

Matt McFetridge is a two-time Emmy Award-winning television producer who has covered 20 wars in 20 countries over 20 years. E-mail:

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