Today was Texas Muslims Capitol Day, meaning that several hundred Muslims (and friends) traveled from around the state to spend a day “to learn about the democratic political process.” Among the things we all learned is that Texas, such a big state, also includes a number of people who would take this as an occasion for a protest. The speeches, songs, and prayers on the south steps of the Capitol were, at many points, drowned out by the shouts of anti-Muslim protesters—a smaller group, but louder. One exception that I saw came when the Muslims sang the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Since at least some of the protesters were working on the assumption that being Muslim and being American are incompatible, the fact that these Muslims were singing the national anthem created some confusion, and the protesters quieted for a few minutes, until one of them shouted: “There’s no ‘twilight’ in sharia!”
While I was watching, at least, stopping sharia law seemed to be the top priority for the protesters, although an oddly pre-emptive one. Despite recent reports that Muslims in Dallas have established a sharia tribunal for people who wish to address their disputes that way, there are no legislators who have expressed an interest in attempting to establish anything along such lines in Texas, and no Muslim Texans, as far as I know, who are lobbying for such a change. If such a bill was filed, moreover, it wouldn’t pass.Setting that aside, if such a bill somehow passed, any measure creating government support for an explicitly religious legal system would be immediately be struck down under the Texas Constitution, which separates church and state. If all else fails, it would be struck down under the US Constitution, which also separates church and state, meaning that the United States effectively forestalled sharia law a long time ago. I’ve also heard some comments today, on Twitter, suggesting that under Islamic law, any version of sharia passed by the Texas Lege wouldn’t count as such. I’m not sure what that means; since Texas doesn’t have sharia law I have no occasion to know what it entails and no one’s going to force me to study it. Other than this unblinking yet unnecessary stand against sharia, it’s not clear what the protesters were so agitated about and a number of them said things that were bigoted, illogical, and/or unkind. The First Amendment protects their right to do so, even though they obviously don’t speak for all Texans.
Neither does Molly White, the Republican representative from Belton, but she does represent her district, and she didn’t make them look good today. In a Facebook post, she explained that although she wouldn’t be in Austin, she had left an Israeli flag on display and “instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.” Later, presumably having been notified that she had put her staff in a humiliating position, not to mention any Muslim visitors she may have had, she offered a “clarifying statement” which, as the Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton noted, didn’t really clarify much at all.
When someone says something that sounds awful I think it’s worthwhile to pause before responding, to consider the comment in context and think about any mitigating factors. In this case, White is a true freshman—new to electoral politics, not just the Lege—and there’s bound to be a learning curve. But even a private citizen should know how weird and hostile her Facebook post was. I can only think of two reasons a legislator would ask Muslims to pledge allegiance as a prerequisite for a courtesy call: she thinks they’re intrinsically suspicious, or that there’s enough reflexive anti-Muslim sentiment in right-wing circles that she didn’t give it much thought at all. The latter possibility, that White is a symptom of widespread casual bigotry rather than a cause, can’t be dismissed outright, considering that she swiftly won some cheap praise from the cheap-thrills conservatives.
But she also earned plenty of well-founded criticism that will linger over her and her district, and a rebuke from House Speaker Joe Straus, which was clearly in reference to White but would be good for everyone to remember in the new days to come: “The Texas Capitol belongs to all the people of this state, and legislators have a responsibility to treat all visitors just as we expect to be treated – with dignity and respect. Anything else reflects poorly on the entire body and distracts from the very important work in front of us.”
(AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)