State Politics

UPDATE: Muslims taken aback by article in Eastern Idaho GOP newsletter

Muslim leaders in eastern Idaho were deeply offended by Islamophobic statements contained in a Monday newsletter distributed by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee.

In the newsletter, an article entitled “Islam in Idaho” warns that Muslims are “infiltrating” the state. It claims Muslims have been taught to “be ready to rise up and kill” non-Muslims and to be “two-faced,” in order to deceive people into believing their intentions are good.

The article called on newsletter readers to “demand that our lawmakers and law enforcers pay attention and ascertain whether or not there is a potential threat.”

“Please, don’t wait until something bad happens,” the article later said.

After learning of the article’s contents, Idaho State University professor Daniel Hummel, a practicing Muslim who teaches political science, said it simply is a rehash of conspiracy theories espoused by radical anti-Muslims.

“This is the same garbage that we’ve been hearing forever,” he said.

When such extremist views are espoused by those who have a degree of power, Hummel said, it can threaten the safety of Muslim communities.

“We’re seeing hate crimes go up year by year, and so stuff like this — especially coming from the top of an organization like the Bonneville County GOP — is really disconcerting for us living here in eastern Idaho,” he said. “Vigilantes” could take such assertions seriously, Hummel said, and commit hate crimes against area Muslims.

Bonneville GOP chairman Doyle Beck said Wednesday afternoon that he was “in Texas in a helicopter” and not available for comment. Wednesday night, Bonneville GOP executive director Becky Prestwich said she wrote the article, which is unsigned but appears below a picture of Beck.

Prestwich said she regretted that she wasn’t more specific in her comments. She said the article was concerned with radical Muslims, not all Muslims. Prestwich said she believes that at least 10 percent of Muslims are radicals.

Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country — said Hummel is right to worry about such rhetoric.

“What we see is that the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric goes up and then we see a minority of bigots turn that hate rhetoric into violent actions,” Hooper said.

The article specifically attacked the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which Prestwich characterized as a front group in an interview with the Post Register.

“Muslims are taught to be ‘two faced,’” the article said, “that is, to present the face of friendship to enemies but to inwardly hate them. To wait to be called to jihad and be ready to rise up and kill the enemy when called. Given that type of deeply ingrained teaching, are we to take them at their word when organizations like CAIR dispute that there are any nefarious intentions?”

The article also painted Muslims as violent toward other religions.

“There are at least 109 (chapters of the Quran) that advocate violence and death towards infidels,” the article said. “And make no mistake; if you are not a Muslim, you are an infidel. Period.”

Not true, Hooper said.

“I’ve been a Muslim for many decades,” he said. “I’ve never heard an actual Muslim use the word ‘infidel.’ The only time you hear that is from anti-Muslim bigots.”

Scientific polling does not support the notion that American Muslims are hostile toward other religions. In fact, it is the exact opposite: Among American religious groups that were polled, Muslims and Mormons had the most positive views of other religions.

Among the groups surveyed, Gallup found Mormons and Muslims had the highest percentage of religiously “integrated” members, at about 45 percent. That compares to about 35 percent of Protestants, Catholics and Jews rated as religiously integrated.

According to the study, “Integrated individuals go beyond a ‘live-and-let-live’ attitude and actively seek to know more about and learn from others of different religious traditions. They believe that most faiths make a positive contribution to society.”

Hummel said there was a long history of constructive relations between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and American Muslims. Mormons often are very supportive of the right of Muslim communities to build places of worship, Hummel said, because they have experienced attempts to block construction of Mormon places of worship.

The newsletter article alleges that the Pocatello mosque, which opened last year, was built “over the objections of many of the citizens of that town.”

But Hummel and another ISU professor said that was untrue. The community generally was supportive, they said, with only a small minority raising objections. Several churches supported the mosque. Among its biggest supporters were members of the Mormon church.

“There’s a reason why people of the LDS faith support the Muslim community all over the country,” Hummel said. “Because they lived it.… They know and experience, on a day-to-day basis, religious discrimination.”

Professor Sean Anderson, chairman of the ISU political science department, said the newsletter invoked similar stereotypes as those used to justify persecution of Mormons, as well as Catholics, at earlier times in American history.

Blaming all Muslims for the actions of terrorists who claim to be Muslim, Anderson said, is akin to blaming all Christians for the actions of Aryan Nations, whose Christian Identity movement, formerly headquartered in northern Idaho, claims to be Christian.

Anderson, a self-described “moderate Republican” who formerly served as a precinct committeeman, said he worried such rhetoric would undermine the party’s credibility.

“(Opponents) could paint all of the GOP as being racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted,” he said. “It tarnishes the reputation of the party.”

Dr. Fahim Rahim, of the Idaho Kidney Institute, a practicing Muslim and local philanthropist, asked Prestwich to “stop spreading hatred and fear.”

“We Idahoans are building bridges of love and understanding so our next generations can thrive and love each other regardless of our culture, religion and identity,” Rahim said in an email. “Please don’t spoil it for your political gains.

“We cannot let such people divide us and our kids and create hatred among them. I want my kids and your kids to grow up in the future and look each other in the eye with love and tolerance. This is what America is all about. And more importantly this is what humanity is all about.”