The Crescent Report

December 16, 2010

North Carolina Muslims want to speak to Congresswoman-Elect Ellmers

Filed under: From the Desk of Imam Mahdi Bray — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 12:42 pm

Renee Ellmers didn’t mean it? Whether the tea party North Carolina congresswoman elect Renee Ellmers meant it or not, Muslims should never succumb to accepting hot political rhetoric that is both factually inaccurate and Islamophobic in nature. There is an old axiom that says, “there are no permanent allies or enemies, but rather common interests that forge political relations.” It is in that spirit that I encourage Muslims to look at the politically experienced and sophisticated young Muslim activists who understand the true dynamics of American politics. They reject the Muslim old-school opportunistic, bootlicking, photo-opt political behavior of the past.

If the soon to be congresswoman moves away from her Islamophobic stance, then by all means, Muslims should seek constructive engagement. But if she insists upon elevating her political stature by bashing Muslims then they must respond with political integrity. How do Muslims do that? Simple, stop posturing and get to work registering individuals, establishing a district-wide voters database, strengthening and building new political coalitions, educate your base, and build an aggressive Get out the vote machine. Two years from now, if the gentlelady from North Carolina’s 2nd district has not mended her ways, then on Election Day, take your souls to the polls and send her packing. Now that’s real politics. Check out the piece below.

-Imam Mahdi Bray

Quote of the Day: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Muslims want to speak to Ellmers

The election of tea party favorite Renee Ellmers to Congress in November was a loss for Democrats and incumbent Bob Etheridge. But some area Muslims say it’s more like a sharp blow for them.

The winner of North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District seat offended many Muslims with a TV campaign ad that claimed that a planned Muslim community center near ground zero in New York City was a “victory mosque,” possibly funded by terrorists.

Dismayed by the ad, individuals and groups within the Triangle’s Muslim community say they are interested in pursuing a truce with Ellmers. They have been trying to reach out to her since the ad first aired in late September.

I’ve called her office three times,” said Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the state chapter of the Muslim American Society’s immigrant justice project. “We’d like to know where she stands and what her intentions are with regard to the Muslim community.”

Ellmers has not responded so far. She also did not return phone calls and e-mail requests for an interview for this story.

“Unfortunately, she is currently busy with the transition and is not available for an interview at this time,” wrote Lorie Byrd, an Ellmers’ staffer.

But Muslims have not given up. They hope that once Ellmers, who is Roman Catholic, meets them she might change her mind about the growing Muslim community in her district, which includes Henderson, Fayetteville, Siler City and Southeast Raleigh.

There are no reliable figures on the number of Muslims in the Triangle, and the U.S. Census is prohibited by law from asking about religious affiliation. But the number of mosques in the region has multiplied A new mosque this year in Selma is Johnston County’s first.

Ellmers, a political newcomer, defeated Etheridge, who held the seat for 14 years. Etheridge enjoyed a good working relationship with Muslims.

Leaning left

Polling data show that Muslims vote Democratic. A poll for the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, for instance, showed that 89 percent of the more than 600 Muslim voters polled in 2008 had voted for Barack Obama, compared to 2 percent for John McCain.

Still, many Muslims hold conservative views on some issues and would find several areas of agreement with Ellmers. Muslims are often socially conservative on the death penalty, abortion and traditional marriage. And they view with alarm sexual promiscuity on TV, the Internet and in the movies.

“As Muslims, we have a lot of values we share with Republicans,” said Jihad Shawwa, a Raleigh Muslim activist who has written to Ellmers.

But Muslims also have become increasingly concerned about civil rights violations, visa and immigration delays, workplace discrimination, oral and physical harassment, surveillance by law enforcement and targeted airport security screenings.

For these reasons, elected officials are important to Muslims, who may need to rely on them if they get in trouble with the law.

“What if a Muslim needed her help?” Shawwa said, adding that he hoped that person would be treated with civility. “After all, we’re citizens. We should be treated with dignity.”

In invitation to dine

Members of the Muslim American Public Affairs Council, a Raleigh group that has successfully reached out to other members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation, said Ellmers will be invited to the group’s yearly dinner March 19. In years past, congressmen Brad Miller and David Price have attended, as have state lawmakers, mayors and law enforcement officers.

Mohammad Elgamal, chairman of the group’s executive committee, said he wrote Ellmers shortly after the mosque TV ad aired. He never heard back. But he’s not yet discouraged.

“I know people say things in the campaign, but they don’t mean it,” Elgamal said. “Personally, I’m willing to work with her.”

Staff Writer, newsobserver.com
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