Something truly wonderful happened in Texas on Saturday night. In between a rodeo championship in Fort Worth, a country music festival in Austin and people honky tonkin’ from Amarillo to San Antonio, history was being made in the mid-size city of Euless, Texas.
In this north Texas city that boasts a population of a little over 50,000, the good people there elected the first minority ever to the Euless City Council. And not only that, the person they elected by a 37-vote margin was both a Muslim and a Pakistani immigrant by the name of Salman Bhojani.
A Muslim immigrant winning an election in Trump’s America, where he’s made anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry a cornerstone of his campaign, is truly inspiring—especially in a red state like Texas. While Bhojani was subject to anti-Muslim attacks during the campaign, his win truly represents a victory of American values over Trump’s un-American views.
But this wasn’t an easy win for Bhojani, who possesses all the qualifications of someone who should easily win a local race. He’s a Boy Scout leader, a family man, has served on the city’s parks board for four years and is a lawyer practicing in the area. If he were Christian and white, I bet the GOP would’ve loved to recruit Bhojani.
But he’s not. Bhojani is a brown, Muslim Pakistani immigrant who came to America in 1999. And while the election was non-partisan, that didn’t stop a Republican state representative—who was not even a candidate in the race—from trying to gin up anti-Muslim animus. So there was Texas representative and Trump wannabe Jonathan Stickland doing his best to scare local voters about the dangers of a Muslim American seeking elected office.
Stickland, a Tea Party darling (but of course!), warned in a Facebook post that Bhojani was a Muslim, adding that “His ideas for our community would scare a majority of our residents but he’s very sneaky in how he presents himself.” (Interestingly, Stickland uses “sneaky” which historically had been used to smear Jews but now is also used to demonize Muslims.) Stickland warned that if elected, Bhojani would make "massive changes" to their mid-size city, clearly playing on fears of changing demographics and anti-Muslim sentiment.
While Stickland also slammed Bhojani for being a “lifelong Democrat who supports raising your taxes,” it was his Muslim faith that Stickland tried to use as a wedge issue just like his beloved Trump. So Stickland posted a video on Facebook of Bhojani in his volunteer work as a Scout leader at a 2017 Euless City council meeting. There, Bhojani presented an American flag and then recited a general prayer from the Quran to start the council meeting that spoke of being welcoming and tolerant of other faiths.
Well, Stickland was appalled. “How dare any faith other than Christianity be invoked at government meetings?!” has long been a theme by the far righters who truly want to impose Christian sharia law. So Stickland stated in connection with the video that it was “thanks to Mr. Bhojani that the Koran was read for the first time at a city council meeting.”
And bingo, there you have good, old-fashioned “dog whistle politics,” as Stickland was warning people that Bhojani is not like them. The response to Stickland’s anti-Muslim bigotry was swift, with local faith leaders uniting to denounce it. As one of the Christian ministers who joined in condemning Stickland’s “hateful rhetoric” stated: “We are committed to following Jesus better today than yesterday, thus loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This means all of our neighbors, whether we look alike, think alike or believe alike.” Amen to that!
Sadly, anti-Muslim hate is a big part of mainstream Republican politics. After all, Trump openly employed it with his call for a complete Muslim ban and by declaring that “Islam hates us.” That’s why it’s not surprising that in the current race to be the next governor of Michigan we’re seeing anti-Muslim bigotry being spewed by a Republican elected official against Democrat Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old medical doctor who previously headed Detroit’s health department. The Michigan born El-Sayed is the living example of the American dream. The son of Egyptian immigrants, he was captain of his Michigan high school football team, played lacrosse at University of Michigan and went on to win a Rhodes scholarship and earn a medical degree from Columbia University.
But as is the case with Bhojani, all many on the right see is that he’s a Muslim. So in the last few weeks El-Sayed has been smeared with lies by Michigan Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who is trying to use anti-Muslim bigotry to bolster his own failing run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Colbeck, offering zero evidence to support his vile attacks on El-Sayed, has claimed that the Democrat is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is waging a “civilization jihad” to in essence take over America.
Funny, you know who else uses the idea that any visible Muslim American is waging a “civilization jihad”?! Anti-Muslim bigots Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel, who are closely tied to Trump’s new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his new national security adviser, John Bolton.
In the case of Watergate and the new scandal involving Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen apparently selling access to the White House, you follow the money. In the case of bigotry, you follow the hate. And in this case it, too, leads right to the White House.
The primary in Michigan isn’t until Aug. 8, so we won’t know until then if Colbeck’s anti-Muslim venom is successful. But thankfully last Saturday in Euless, Texas we saw American values trump bigotry—even if just by 37 votes.