The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) yesterday issued a statement calling on the Arkansas legislature to censure Sen. Jason Rapert for comments that CAIR argued “appeared to question the right of American Muslim to participate in the political process.”
Readers of the blog will be familiar with this latest brouhaha from the bumptious Rapert, who recently founded the National Association of Christian Lawmakers and has made various comments suggesting a leeriness of Muslims. In a Facebook post, he appeared to fret over high turnout among Muslims and the fact that dozens of Muslim Americans won state, local and federal office in November. Rapert asked, “Do you want them ruling everything in America?”
Here’s the response from CAIR, a national advocacy group which had done the initial poll on high Muslim turnout:
On November 30, Sen. Jason Rapert, who also founded the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, tweeted a story from a right-wing conspiracy site about CAIR’s report on the high Muslim voter turnout in the midterm elections, and commented, “Do you want them ruling everything in America?” In a later post he wrote: “If you read this article and don’t see real political concerns then you have a problem perceiving news.” Rapert has since tried to walk back his bigoted comments.
“It is unconscionable for an elected official to question the right of political participation by any American based solely on his or her religious beliefs,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. “Senator Rapert’s bigoted comments reflect dangerous ideologies of the past that should be repudiated, not promoted.”
Rapert has responded to criticism in numerous posts on Twitter and Facebook. He says he was just sharing an article and asking a question. He also listed examples of violence committed by extremists who were Muslim. He asked about purported Muslim beliefs and asked, “How could you believe that as an American citizen?” And so on.
As CAIR noted, Rapert defended himself by stating that the article raised important concerns. And what were those? The original article, from the site DC Clothesline, states that the “high percentage of Muslims voting” is “concerning.” Running down the list of Muslim candidates who won office in November, and CAIR’s data on Muslim participation in the political process, the article concludes, “If you don’t think they have an agenda to conform America to Islam, you really do need to pull your head out of the sand.”
Perhaps I could offer a thought experiment that might help Rapert understand why some view his innocent question-asking as bigoted. Imagine that Rapert had shared an article expressing concerns about high voter turnout among African-Americans, with the comment, “Do you want blacks ruling everything in America?” Or an article about high voter turnout among Jews, with the comment, “Do you want Jews ruling everything in America?”
Rapert’s argument is that his comments are different because of incidents like the September 11 attacks, or because the Muslim faith is somehow incompatible with American values. As long as it’s Muslims we’re concerned about, it can’t be bigotry.
Imagine a citizen in Conway who works hard, pays her taxes, raises a family, follows the laws. She’s excited about participating in American democracy and she votes, maybe knocks on some doors for the candidate of her choice. She happens to be Muslim. What is she to make of Rapert asking, “Do you want them ruling everything in America?” He’s her senator. Might she wonder whether she is included in that “you”? Might she wonder if she has a place in Rapert’s vision of America?
Will the legislature respond to CAIR’s call for censure? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Asked for his response, Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hendren said, “I don’t have a comment at this time.”
I have asked for a response from House Speaker Matthew Shepherd and will update if I receive a response.
p.s. This is not the first time that Rapert has sounded off on Muslims. Some years back, you may recall, Rapert got in hot water for a fiery speech in which he barked, “We’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in.” Critics suggested he was talking about racial minorities (there was a Confederate flag flying in the crowd); Rapert insisted he was talking about political minorities. But the comment came immediately after a long spiel on “taking the country back for the Lord,” Ramadan, and Muslims. If you watched the full speech in context, it became crystal clear that he was talking about religious minorities, and one in particular.
p.p.s. Here’s a piece from the Daily Beast on Muslims who won state, local, and federal elections in November — at least 55 in all: “Many of these candidates were inspired to run in response to the most openly anti-Muslim president our nation has ever seen, Donald Trump.”