Islamophobia Isn’t Exclusive to Our Executive Branch. We Get Plenty of Prejudice From Our North Texas and State Officials, Too.
While information was initially scarce on the Trump administration’s executive order temporarily barring all refugees and citizens from seven different nations where Islam is the predominant religion, it was immediately clear to many after its announcement that something was deeply wrong wrong with the measure. It was no surprise, really, that protests quickly broke out to challenge the order and defend those affected.
Protesters descended upon airports all over the country as an unknown number of those singled out by the arbitrary crackdown — including people who already possessed green cards — were being detained. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was visited by an impressive number of protestors, as well as by lawyers looking for ways to help anyone who might have been trapped by the order.
That show of support was heartening — and badly needed — because, while the executive order against refugees and immigrants may have felt sudden, the noxious Islamophobic streak running through that order ought to be familiar by now. A xenophobic element was present in Trump’s campaign practically from its inception. But the case could be made that it actually predates the campaign altogether, and should be traced back to when Trump was just a businessman and reality TV star pushing the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Of course, just as it would be wrong to say that the order’s inspiration came from nowhere, it would be wrong to act like we haven’t seen this kind of nastiness from some of our own elected officials here in Texas.
Irving became a flashpoint for discussions about Islamophobia after Mayor Beth Van Duyne made a Facebook post in early 2015 responding to rumors and conjecture about what was happening in local mosques. Her post led people to mistakenly believe there was an attempt by area Muslims to adhere to their religious laws — even to the exclusion of American laws. That led to armed protesters moving in predatory circles in front of the Islamic Center of Irving, and to the Irving City Council pushing for a rule to ban anyone from following anything other than American law in American courts (which, by the way, that wasn’t even close to happening, although this won’t be the only time such a measure is brought up). When the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed — you may remember him as “the clock boy” — made national news, Irving was exposed as a town gripped by widespread prejudice.
But Van Duyne isn’t a political aberration, unfortunately. Freshman Texas Representative Kyle Biedermann recently drew ire after he mailed loyalty surveys to different Muslim leaders in the state. This happened in advance of his Texas Homeland Security Forum, which he made a point of holding just prior to Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a yearly event sponsored by the Council of American-Islamic Relations. CAIR’s purpose is probably pretty clear, especially in light of the knowledge that someone like Representative Biedermann felt free to try and impose an impromptu test of loyalty on Muslim leaders in our state.
During a previous Texas Muslim Capitol Day, now-ousted State Representative Molly White handled the affair by not going to her office, leaving an Israeli flag on her reception desk, and insisting her staff ask Muslim visitors to take a loyalty pledge.
Oh, and it’s not just mayors and congresspeople that are doing this sort of thing. Retired teacher and state school board candidate Mary Lou Bruner’s views and social media posts were insane enough to gain international attention. The Islamophobic portions of her online posts might have been missed by some who were too caught up in her claims that President Obama had been a gay prostitute, but they were there just the same. Her campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, because apparently there was a point at which a candidate in a 2016 election could be considered too outrageous (go figure), although that breaking point was shockingly high.
Still, let’s stick with education for a moment and talk about former Keller ISD board trustee Jo Lynn Haussmann, who had to be censured after she made an ugly, asinine Facebook post about the election of Shahid Shafi to the Southlake City Council. Haussmann essentially threw a tantrum because she thought low voter turnout was responsible for the election of a Muslim to a city council seat.
Of course, the people mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg, and many of them seem destined to no longer appear on any upcoming ballots. But that doesn’t mean that plenty of others just like them won’t. Take, for instance, any of the below-listed people, each of which has showed just as aggressive a Islamophobic streak.
Here, we’ll take a closer look into their transgressions in this regard. Oh, and a word of warning: If this rundown starts to exhaust you, just imagine being the target of these shitty statements and actions, all of which come from people who are supposed to represent you and your family.
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. In August 2015, Commissioner Miller’s Facebook campaign page shared a horrifying meme that alluded to using nuclear weapons on “the Muslim World.” The post was deleted, and Miller shifted blame by saying it was shared by a staffer. While he wanted to make it clear he had nothing to do with it, though, he also made sure his office offered no apology whatsoever. Miller has made comments about his fear that America will turn into a Muslim country, and his spokesman, in a statement, referred to memes about using nuclear fucking weapons on the Muslim world as “thought-provoking.” To be fair, that spokesman isn’t wrong; the sharing of these memes has provoked me into thinking I should pay closer attention to who’s running for offices like Commissioner of Agriculture.
Governor Greg Abbott. Governor Abbott was one of several governors who pounced on the terrorist attacks in Paris as an excuse to escape their responsibility for resettling Syrian refugees. But apparently that broad gesture of indifference to people in desperate straits wasn’t satisfying enough; the state also filed a lawsuit to stop a Syrian family from moving here, and he’s these days actively looking to take down any officials in Texas who put up a fight with his plan to abolish sanctuary cities within the state. During his time as attorney general, Abbott also entered into a controversy regarding a third-party curriculum program, CSCOPE, which was alleged by conservative conspiracy circles to be indoctrinating children with (among other things) anti-American and pro-Muslim views. An independent investigation failed to find evidence to back those claims. But hey, maybe this isn’t Abbott being caught up in conspiracies and prejudices. Maybe he’s just happy to play into the conspiracies and prejudices of his constituents, which is… yeah, that’s actually still awful.
State Senator Bob Hall (District 2). Like Governor Abbott, Senator Hall was quick to use the terrorist attacks in Paris to argue against accepting Syrian refugees. Unlike Abbott, Hall decided to parlay his statement into a listing of his broader concerns about Islam and terrorism, and it went about as far off the rails as you expect. His post included claims we’ve been at war with radical Islam since our country’s founding, and a suspicion that our southern border is a revolving door for ISIS members. Oh, and just to avoid confusion, let’s make it clear we’re talking Texas Senator Bob Hall, not former Massachusetts senator Robert A. Hall, who also has some real unpleasant things to say about Muslims.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz isn’t afraid to look afraid of engaging with people who observe the Islamic faith. During his presidential campaign, he actually refused to meet with a delegation of Muslims during their visit to Capitol Hill, despite weeks of efforts to arrange the conversation with him. He’s also yet another person who leaned heavily on foreign terrorist attacks to argue for shirking our national responsibility to take in refugees, and has even suggested a pointed security crackdown on neighborhoods with concentrated Muslim populations. During his failed run for president, Cruz also brought on advisers with notorious Islamophobic views. The leader of that group, Frank Gaffney, actually came to the campaign with his own list of countries whose residents should be barred from immigrating here, so it’s probably safe to include a terrible, indefensible Muslim ban in your alternative universe scenario where Cruz managed to become president in 2016.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. In 2007, Lt. Governor Patrick showed contempt for the Muslim faith when he made a show of walking out during the first Muslim prayer held in the Texas Senate. His views haven’t shown much improvement since then. Like Senator Hall, Patrick seems to believe the Mexico/U.S. border is a leaky faucet letting ISIS fighters regularly drip into our midst. He was also part of the push to antagonize CSCOPE, based on the idea that it was overly supportive of Islam (among other concerns).
Mayor Beth Van Duyne. Mayor Van Duyne’s willingness to stick to Islamophobic matters — even after a national uproar over the city’s frightening descent into intolerance — earned her a spot on our list of Dallas’ worst people of 2016. She’s continued to use her “experience” dealing with the Muslim community as political leverage since Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest. Van Duyne touted her experience during a meeting with the Far North Dallas Tea Party last September, and was more recently a part of Representative Biedermann’s Texas Homeland Security Forum, where she advocated again for a statewide rule to hold American courts strictly to the observance of American laws. It bears repeating every time this comes up: There is no threat of Sharia or any other foreign law being given precedence over American law.
State Representative Tony Tinderholt. Representative Tinderholt has drawn more ire for his comments on abortion (he now requires a security detail because of threats made against him over his views, so “ire” may be selling it short), but Tinderholt also co-sponsored a bill to block the use of any foreign laws in Texas courts in the House. He recently joined Representative Biedermann’s Texas Homeland Security Forum, where he expressed the bizarre belief that the media was somehow partly at fault for making Muslims think they could operate solely through their own religious laws. Speaking as someone who’s technically part of the media: I’d like to say that this allegation is weird and confusing, honestly.
U.S. Representative Roger Williams. Representative Williams almost escaped inclusion in this list, but that’s only thanks to his location. His district somehow stretches all the way from Austin up to the southern area of Tarrant County, putting him just barely in our reach. Representative Williams used the terror attacks in Brussels to remind people that he thinks all Muslims are at least a teensy bit guilty whenever someone commits an act of terror in the name of Islam. If Boston were to experience riot conditions after their team won the Super Bowl, we wouldn’t ask all sports fans to feel the least bit culpable. I shouldn’t need to use an analogy to explain why Representative Williams’ position here is asinine, but I’m offering this one just in case. Also, Williams apparently needs this kind of approach; we know for a fact that his Austin constituents have been having such a hard time meeting with him down there that they’re planning on storming a Tarrant County GOP fundraiser he’s confirmed to be attending just to get his attention.
Texas Representative Jeff Leach. In 2015, Representative Leach authored a bill ruling that no foreign laws could take priority over domestic law in Texas courts. It was never passed, but he’s involved with drafting another bill of the same nature for the 2017 session. The proposed law was inspired by the American Law for American Courts legislation, and crafted by noted anti-Sharia activist David Yerushalmi. Yerushalmi also works on Frank Gaffney’s anti-Muslim group, The Center for Security Policy, and has provided his legal services to Pamela Geller, the woman behind the controversy-baiting “Draw Mohammed” event in Garland. If Leach has any splashier examples of bias — the sharing of a radical Facebook meme, or some recorded statement about his apocalyptic ideas about the Muslim faith — I couldn’t find them. Still, he’s apparently committed to passing this controversial bill, one that’s been called out for being discriminatory against Muslims by CAIR, and one that was shaped by someone whose views on the Islamic faith are alarming. So his seemingly mundane efforts deserve scrutiny. That’s an important point: Prejudiced people don’t always let themselves slip into uncivil discourse. There are some who will exercise caution in all their statements, and hide any hint of malice while they push odious ideas that have no purpose other than to place a new category of suspicion on a group of people. Prejudice doesn’t have to be sloppy or abrasive. Sometimes, it’s downright insidious. Sometimes, you see evidence of it hiding in an official like Leach, who will open his door to you and hear your complaints only to shut it when you leave, and return to discriminatory schemes. Reading about Ted Cruz running away from a difficult meeting with Muslim constituents is infuriating, but it’s not shocking. Reading about Leach’s willingness to listen to people’s concerns, and connect with them, only to learn he’s apparently sticking to his pernicious course? That’s infuriating, but it’s also a worrying sign that Islamophobic measures, and the people who want to pass them, can be unexpectedly resilient.
Cover photo by Pete Freedman.