As the Harris County GOP was nominating people last week to serve as the chair of the more than 1,000 precincts in Texas’s largest county, an unusual thing happened: Trebor Gordon, who serves as one of those precinct chairs—as well as as the chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party—spoke up to try to prevent one of those nominees from being seated. As the Houston Chronicle reported:
Trebor Gordon, who makes $55,000 a year as community outreach director to first-term Councilman Mike Knox, said Syed Ali should not be named to fill a vacant precinct chair post in the Alief area because “Islam and Christianity do not mix.”
Gordon, who serves as a part-time pastor at a Near North Side church and as chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party, contended Ali did not bow his head Monday night during his prayer at the party’s quarterly meeting.
“If you believe that a person can practice Islam and agree to the foundational principles of the Republican Party, it’s not right, it’s not true, it can’t happen,” Gordon said.
Ali did end up getting the position, despite Gordon’s objections. Harris County GOP Chairperson Paul Simpson told the Chronicle that he doesn’t believe in “religious tests” for those who want to help advance conservative principles, and noted that Ali—whom he described as “a voice for Republicanism in the Pakistani community for years”—has been voting for Republicans for a long time.
For his part, Ali explained that he has no problem with Gordon attempting to institute a religious test for holding office in the Harris County GOP, because of “freedom of speech, Constitution of the United States, his belief, his thought, his experience, his individual mind,” according to the Chronicle. That is generous of him—but it does highlight the difficulty in trying to walk the line around how Muslims and Islam are treated by the GOP, especially in presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s version of the party. “Freedom of speech” and “Constitution of the United States” do indeed grant someone like Gordon the right to speak his mind about what he thinks of Islam and Muslims—but those same principles also prevent Gordon’s personal feelings about Islam from influencing policy.
The GOP, post-Trump, is in an interesting spot. In 2014, 51 percent of Muslims identified as Democrats, and 15 percent identified, like Syed Ali, identified as Republicans. That leaves a whole lot of room for the Muslim people who don’t identify with any party. But as of January, while the 15 percent of Muslims who identified as Republicans hadn’t changed, the segment that didn’t identify as a member of either party went from 34 percent of Muslims to just 18 percent—as of January, a whopping two-thirds of all Muslims in the U.S. identify as Democrats.
That’s significant, and it speaks to just how hard Ali’s job—as someone who attempts to bring other Muslims into the GOP—must be. Both of his communities seem to have little room for one another, and finding himself singled out as someone who shouldn’t be allowed to fill a vacancy in the party because of his religion only highlights the unique challenges for a Muslim Republican in 2016.