SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)-Anti-Islam posts by a Wisconsin official have drawn fierce criticism by Muslims and community leaders who disdained themselves from the inflammatory rants, calling for an interfaith dialogue to foster inclusion.
“They’re her posts and hers alone,” Tim Hanna, the Mayor of Applenton city in the US northern state of Wisconsin, told Post-Crescent on Tuesday, September 2.
“It certainly doesn’t reflect the views of the city or the council. I’m disappointed given the context of all we’ve done to position ourselves as welcoming and inclusive.”
Troubles appeared after an Appleton alderwoman Cathy Spears, who also serves as an Outagamie County supervisor, questioned on Facebook whether Islamic teachings are peaceful.
“I have a very open viewpoint and look at all kinds of content,” Spears said.
“Posting something doesn’t mean that I approve of it. I’m throwing it out there for comment even if I disagree with it totally. I’m open-minded and see posts from very conservative friends and very liberal friends on Facebook.”
Reacting to Spears’s anti-Muslims comments, Leah Hart-Landsberg, an associate minister at the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, called them “staggeringly ignorant”.
Forwarding the posts to the Mayor, Hart-Landsberg said that comments send a signal that Appleton is a “hostile and unwelcoming community”, stressing that Spears should be held to a higher standard as a public official.
“This is publicly available on Facebook and she chose to forward it on. To me, it’s like a press release from her. She’s inviting us to view, comment and sponsor the message.”
Since 9/11, Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.
A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world.
Shocked by Spears’ hateful comments, Appleton Muslims said that this rant was unprecedented in their peaceful community.
“I’ve lived in Appleton for 12 years now and was surprised to hear about this,” said Imam Mohamed Abdelazim of the Islamic Center of Wisconsin.
“The atmosphere toward Islam is very peaceful and people have been very friendly,” Abdelazim said.
“The solution for any problem or misunderstanding is discussion and education, and the best thing is to correct this information, sit together and have a discussion.”
Rebuking Spears for her offensive comments, Mayor Hanna said that she take “responsibility” for her posts as a representative.
He added that the official was “unfair” for blaming terrorist attacks on Muslims, the attacks that are carried by extremist groups under the guise of religion.
“We’ve gone down this path as a society over and over again and at some point we need to completely learn that we have a Muslim community here, they’re peaceful and good people,” Hanna said.
Other officials have blamed Spears for not adopting inclusion instead of attacking Muslims, calling for a community discussion about the offensive comments.
“When things like this get disseminated, we have to come out strongly with a message of interfaith dialogue, education and understanding,” said Kathy Flores, the city’s diversity coordinator.
“I hope (Spears) is a little surprised at the feedback, and then she takes some time to look reflectively at any uproar it causes”.