Muslims have lived in Texas since 1854. They have established mosques, schools and other institutions that serve the greater community. Like most residents, they are proud Texans and Americans, according to Omar Suleiman, who serves as the Resident Scholar of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Irving, Texas.
“In the over 150 years that this community has been here, never has there been a problem with the Muslim community trying to overthrow the system,” he said. “Not once has there been a Muslim promoting anything unconstitutional that infringes on the rights of our friends and neighbors. These aren’t alternate facts; they’re just facts.”
Last Wednesday, Suleiman with a group of interfaith and civil rights leaders held a press conference at Irving City Hall to oppose a summit spearheaded by Texas State Representative Kyle Biedermann and supported by Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne.
The summit entitled, “Defending Against Radical Islamic Terrorism in Texas” took place at the state capitol last week. Community leaders in attendance at the press conference believe the summit unfairly targeted Muslims.
However, Rep. Biedermann disagrees with the community leaders. The North Dallas Gazette sent Rep. Biedermann’s office questions related to this story. Even though staffers at Biedermann’s office acknowledged receipt of the questions, they went unanswered; staffers instead sent a press release about the summit.
“With the rise of radical Islamic terrorism throughout the world, our homeland security must be our top priority. When I took office, I assembled a Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Advisory Council,” Rep. Biedermann stated in the press release. “We have a responsibility as Texans to secure our border and to protect against the serious, and growing, threats of terrorism.”
Community leaders said Rep. Biedermann should spend more time building relationships with the Muslim community and speaking out against racists and xenophobes.
“Texas strength is in its diversity. This is one of the most diverse states in the country and that is what makes us strong,” said Sahar Aziz, a board member of the ACLU of Texas during last week’s press conference. “If he truly cares about Texas, then he should be defending the religious freedom rights of all Texans of all faiths.”
Hispanic activist Carlos Quintanilla said Mayor Van Duyne should also stop the rhetoric and support the large Hispanic and Muslim communities in Irving.
“We need to send a message to Mayor Beth Van Duyne that the City of Irving constituents will not tolerate hatred,” said Quintanilla, the leader of Accion America.
“We have never seen any radical Islamic behavior in Irving and we need to share that type of awareness with the community. Irving has a large minority community that includes Muslims and hate mongering is not acceptable.”
The North Dallas Gazette also sent Mayor Van Duyne’s office a series of questions for this article, but her staffers also declined to offer a response for this story.
Suleiman said Muslims welcome government officials to visit mosques to get to know them in the spirit of friendship and not suspicion. He said that reject a privately funded poll sent out to Muslim groups earlier this month by Rep. Biedermann requesting their response.
“The representative didn’t reach out to us through one of the many mosques in Texas. Some [mosques are] in his own district,” Suleiman said during the press conference last week. “Instead, he decided to put us through a litmus test that is grounded in intimidation. These loyalty tests are not new in America, and they essentially imply a second-class citizenship on the part of those who receive them. We reject that status and characterization. By sending us these letters dictated by Xenophobes and hate groups not even based in our state, he is negating decade of interfaith dialogue, multi-faith cooperation and civic engagement here in Texas.”
Dr. Michael W. Waters, who also attended the press conference, said he is concerned about the growing acceptance of racism and xenophobia sweeping across the country.
“I believe there is an assault on our civil liberties that were secured for us, in blood, by generations of soldiers and generations of activists,” said Waters, a pastor of Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in South Dallas. “I believe Muslims are being targeted.”
Shayan Elahi, an American Muslim who is the chair of the civil rights committee of the Dallas County Democratic Party added, “Political intimidation will not work just as it has not worked against other minorities.”