Good morning Austin:
Above is a video by the Statesman’s Tina Phan excerpting an interview I did yesterday with Molly White, the freshman state representative from Belton, who gained a certain national celebrity/notoriety last week when, on the occasion of Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she posted this on her Facebook page:
Today is Texas Muslim Capital Day in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.
As I was contemplating how to write about this last night, I dozed off watching Her, a 2013 Spike Jonze film set in the not-too-distant future, in which a man, Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with Samantha, the very intelligent and sultry-voiced (Scarlett Johansson) operating system of his computer/smart phone. It’s a subtly creepy science fiction movie because it is not nearly sufficiently far-fetched.
But watching this movie after interviewing Rep. White, it occurred to me that she might have been well-served if she had her own Samantha, a caring voice who, as she was about to post on Facebook the other day, might have offered the caution, “Molly, Molly, Molly, are you really sure this is what you mean to say?”
An actual living, breathing member of her staff also might have offered the same caution, but White did not consult with them before posting her thoughts on Muslim Day. As it was, it was her living, breathing staff – whose average age, it would appear, is so young they probably barely remember the Rick Perry era – that proved to be her saving grace. When push came to shove, there was no pushing or shoving. They were simply too well brought up to have treated visitors to her office in the unkind manner White had seemed to instruct in her Facebook post..
As it turned out, White said, her office was in fact visited by two representatives of the Council on American Islamic Relations – the group whose sponsorship of Texas Muslim Capitol Day had, she said, set off the “red flags,” that prompted her Facebook post – last Thursday. But no one asked them to pledge allegiance or forswear terrorism. Instead, they were politely received and invited to sit down for a discussion of their legislative agenda. They were told, White said. “yes, we agree with you on this bill, and, no, we don’t agree with you on that bill.”
“I think they left here making comments that they were treated with the utmost respect and dignity,” said White.
Was she upset or disappointed that her staff had either countermanded or simply ignored her apparent instructions on how to treat Muslim visitors?
No, she said. Not at all. In fact, she said, they didn’t even know that those were her instructions.
“They were pretty clueless that I had put that post on Facebook until it just went falling down on them. I called them up and said, “You know, I put this up here that’s causing a lot of trouble.’ `Yeah,” they said they were catching some flak.”
Why had she done it?
Last Thursday we had Muslim Capitol Day, which is great, but the Wednesday previous to that I received the notice of who was sponsoring that day and it was an organization, CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations – and I know about that organization and it caused a lot of red flags because they are classified as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates and it came to my attention that their spokesperson, just in 2013, stood on our Capitol steps and said, “If you’re a practicing Muslim, you are above the law.” That sort of caused concern for me. If members of that group came into my office, I wanted to know where they stood on certain things that are important to Texans and our liberties and freedoms here.
When I made the post I went off and had very busy day and started finding out that it was causing a lot of controversy. Before I could do anything to correct it or explain myself, it just went viral and so I thought, I’ll wait until it rides down a little bit and elaborate on what I meant.
To that end, she posted this video yesterday.
CAIR says that White’s assertion linking them to terrorism is unfounded, and her depiction of remarks by Mustafaa Carroll, head of CAIR’s Houston office, at last year’s Texas Muslim Capitol Day is willfully misleading.
“CAIR has no ties to terrorism,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs manager for CAIR in D.C. “We are very committed to protecting the United States Constitution and protecting the rights of all Americans. We believe that Miss White clearly made a statement that got her in a lot of hot water, and now she’s looking to get out of the kettle.”
Here is a video of a State Department official late last year saying that the United States does not view CAIR as a terrorist organization, and that they were asking the United Arab Emirates to justify its designation. In the meantime, CAIR is appealing that designation in the UAE.
McCaw: “If Rep. White wants to stand with the United Arab Emirates, we will stand with the United States.”
“A lot of this is just theater. It’s just theater for her,” said Carroll of White. “She had no intent of finding out the truth of the matter. She has yet to apologize that I know of.”
White’s Facebook post came even as protesters disrupted the Texas Muslim Capitol Day program (at one point a woman took the microphone and claimed the Capitol in the name of Jesus; see that video here), which included a lot of Muslim schoolchildren.
“It was reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement. I’m old enough to remember what was going on at that time,” said Carroll, recalling the scene of Ruby Bridges, the little six-year-old girl who integrated the New Orleans schools in 1960s, being led each day by federal marshals pat the taunts and abuse of a white mob that would gather daily outside her elementary school.
“It just show the level of hate people have,” Carroll said. “We try to protect the children from all our foolishness. But we didn’t in this case. We try to protect them from that but it happened and we had several young girls crying. But you know, I hate to say it, but it might make them stronger and it might have been a good thing in a way. I guess I’m so used to hearing so much hate in my lifetime, I sometimes become desensitized to it. But when I saw the look on the children’s faces, and how scared they were, it really hurt. We were pumping them up, telling them what a great thing it as to be part of this country.”
“We told them there would be people protesting, to be on their best behavior, but it’s one thing to be told something’s going to happen and another thing to experience it,” Carroll said.
“I wasn’t even there,” said White. “I didn’t even know about that until I saw it on the news later that evening.”
“I don’t agree with that type of protest,” she said.
“It’s never for me good to be disrespectful. I’ve been in a lot of controversial issues and people don’t always behave the way you’d like them to.”
Carroll has Texas roots but grew up Baptist in Gary, Indiana in a family replete with preachers. In college, at the University of Indiana, “I was trying to get serious about my faith,” a search that ultimately led him to convert to Islam.
Carroll said it has become a tiresome ritual for Muslims to be called upon to prove their patriotism.
“Every time some Muslim does something in the world they think all Muslims are obliged or compelled to say something. Most of us, I dare say, the majority of Muslims don’t like these groups any more than anybody else. Muslims are the victims of terrorism more than anyone else. It seems that we’re constantly condemning it, but they don’t hear it. I think it’s just part of narrative we play into. It’s a way of keeping us on the defensive. It’s kind of a game to keep us on the defensive.”
“The best thing we can do as a community is to get people to know us, and stop throwing rocks from afar,” Carroll said. “Most of the discord comes from people who don’t know their own faith.”
White said if that if, in fact, CAIR is not a terrorist organization, “if they’ve fallen in line, that’s great. We could have had an open dialogue and set the record straight and everything would have been fine. But that was my red flag and that’s why I made the comments that I did.”
And, if Carroll’s comments were out of context, she said, “Well, mine’s been misunderstood a lot too, people taking it all out of context as well.”
“I’m not justifying it, it but you can see how a lot of people can take a lot of things out of context. But, those were red flags and I responded with my red flags and I mean, we all have built-in intuition that causes us alarms sometimes.”
Amid the furor over her Facebook post, House Speaker Joe Straus issued a statement that, while not mentioning White, said, “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.”
White said she agreed the Capitol belonged to everyone.
“It does, and I talked to (the speaker) and I didn’t know all this was going down and he was getting all these phone calls or I would have called him earlier, but I was very, very busy Friday, one appointment after another back in the district, but, yeah, we talked and we’re fine.”
Yesterday, Straus gave White, whose father is a retired Army colonel, whose brother-in-law, Eddy Lange, is the Bell County sheriff, and many of whose constituents are stationed at Fort Hood, a desired spot on the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.
From her colleagues, White said, she had received “a lot of support. They know me, they know my heart, and a lot of them knew about the group (CAIR), so they have their concerns. So I’ve gotten a lot of support, from both Democrats and Republicans.”
She said she had also gotten a lot of support back in the district.
“Of course, we’re a military community and people were just very supportive. Of course, there were some who said, `You could have said it differently.’ I said, `I know,’ but that was then, you can’t go back and undo anything. You just have to clarify it and move forward.”