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Welcome on the street jars with hostility on the airwaves
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:51 AM
The Uighurs with Major Glenn Brangman on Front Street. *Photo by James Whittaker
The hostility on the local blogs and airwaves may have suggested otherwise but in person, most Bermudians have been unable to resist extending a warm welcome to their new neighbours from Guantanamo.
The hugs, handshakes, bumping fists and declarations of 'peace brother' that the freed prisoners received as we walked around St George's on Sunday was typical of the reaction on the streets.
It was a similar story in Hamilton on Monday. Far from running in fear or venting their anger at the four Uighurs they have been treated almost as celebrities.
From the distance of a computer keyboard many have reacted with anger to the news that four men will be released from Guantanamo into their midst, helped to find jobs and homes and ultimately given citizenship.
"I hope you find life so difficult you leave ASAP. Bermuda for Bermudians," was the response of one particularly irate poster on the Bermuda Sun's website.
But faced with the flesh and blood reality of four slight, smiling men, eager to be accepted, the reaction has been the opposite.
Embracing one of the four in a bear hug, a passer-by in St George's told him: "Welcome to our country brother, I hope you stay and have a wonderful life here."
Seeing the group in the flesh - eating ice cream, visiting stores and restaurants, taking delight in catching a fish for the first time in seven years - the 'terrorist' label has been stripped away and they have seemed, and been treated as if they were regular tourists.
Most people just want a picture and a handshake.
"It goes to show the people who speak on the Internet and on the talkshows are probably not reflective of the greater cross section of Bermuda," said Major Glenn Brangman, who is travelling with the Uighurs and assisting their transition to freedom.
"Certainly it's a part of our Bermudian culture and heritage to be friendly people. The people we have seen over the last few days are a good cross section of real Bermuda. It's great to see that friendliness is still alive."
He said there had been the odd negative remark like 'go home' or 'terrorist' but the hecklers had been in the minority.
Earl Robinson, who has acted as tour guide for the four, said he thought most people who had made negative comments (on the talk shows and the web) had just reacted without really knowing the details.
But he said anyone who had met the men could see that there was no reason to be afraid of them.
"Out in the community, the cordiality and the extension of greetings from all walks of life has been overwhelming. They are being welcomed with wide and open arms."
Having spent the past few days with the men, Mr Robinson, said he had found them to be genuine, humble and friendly people. He said people had nothing to worry about and insisted he was more concerned about Bermuda's gang culture.
"I'll tell you where the real terrorists are - they're on Ord Road and 42nd Street. That's what we should be worried about, not these four men."
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