The Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) is demanding an apology from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. His infraction? Visiting a mosque in Falls Church where he passionately spoke about defending vulnerable populations against President Trump’s Muslim ban.
In a website petition, the RPV claimed that the mosque Herring attended has a “troubling history of pro-terrorism rhetoric.” The petition also claimed, without evidence, that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the organizers of last Friday’s town hall, are backed by the extremist group Hamas.
The petition put a photo of Herring alongside photos of Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church where Herring spoke. Al-Awlaki later became an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen where he was killed in a U.S.-led drone strike in 2011.
The Washington Post reported that other violent extremists — including two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers and Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who killed more than a dozen people in Fort Hood, Texas — attended the mosque.
RPV’s executive director John Findlay later qualified the petition by stating that the party doesn’t have objections to politicians visiting mosques — in fact, the party’s chairman visited another Muslim house of worship recently. But the party objected to Herring’s visit to Dar al-Hijrah.
“[T]he Party does object to Mark Herring holding an event at a center with an extensive and well-documented history with anti-American terrorists,” Findlay said.
Herring spoke at the mosque last Friday in part because Virginia will likely be the next battleground state for the Trump administration in its struggle to implement a revised Muslim ban that’s already been blocked by two federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. The U.S. Department of Justice will appeal the Maryland decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Richmond.
Yet the RPV petition is troubling for a variety of reasons. The mosque hosted a visit by a FBI director in January who was there to do community outreach. There is no evidence that points to CAIR being a terror-linked group, except that many right-wing sites cite a conspiratorial article written by an extremist think-tank headed by notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney. And with incidents of Islamophobia on the rise, the center has been the target of a fake bomb threat and people leaving messages like, “You motherf — -ers better leave the country because if you come to the U.S., and start training f — -ing Muslim terrorists, we’re going to f — -ing bomb you, you f — -ing piece of s — -.”
As the left-leaning Blue Virginia blog pointed out, claiming that current mosque attendees are terrorist sympathizers is “comparable to claiming that anyone who attends a church or synagogue where one of the members once committed a crime is therefore a criminal.”
For another thing, it’s unlikely that any RPV members attended Friday night’s “know your rights” training, prayer, and subsequent town hall meeting. Had they gone, they would not have witnessed any terrorist training in action. They also wouldn’t have seen Herring or anyone else caught in some sort of nefarious act.
Had they attended — as ThinkProgress did during Herring’s visit — the RPV would have seen concerned Muslim Americans and immigrants receiving guidance from on-site lawyers about how to apply for U.S. citizenship. They would have also seen concerned U.S. citizens asking CAIR legal counsel how they could visit their families living abroad. And indeed, Republicans would have seen shoe-less children chasing each other past folding chairs where Muslim American mothers with heavy American accents feared for their nephews with “funny-sounding Islamic names” growing up too fast and too tall. Most of all, the RPV may have seen Herring’s roughly 10-minutes-long speech, intended to send a message of inclusion to the state’s Muslim population.
Still, Muslim Americans are frequently expected to answer for the crimes that people commit in the name of Islam. A 2015 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that Americans have a double standard when it comes to judging acts of violence committed by Muslims as opposed to those committed by Christians. While 19 percent of Americans believe self-identified Christians commit violence in the name of Christianity, nearly twice as many people believe that Muslim perpetrators do so in the name of Islam.
Aside from a serious lack of evidence that points to current mosque attendees as terrorists, the RPV itself has a troubling history of bashing on other religions. In 2013, RPV Chairman John Whitbeck opened up a rally with an anti-Semitic joke.
Correction: Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in 2011, not 2001 as previously stated.