An All Too Rare Victory of Civic Amity Over Religious Bigotry in Texas

By Donald A. Collins | 28 January 2019
Church and State

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

An opinion piece by Dr. Shahid Shafi, a surgeon, a city councilman in Southlake, Tex., and vice chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party entitled “I joined the GOP because it stood for religious freedom. It still does” appeared in the Wednesday, January 23, 2019 Washington Post. I felt it offered a chance for amplified commentary on our web site. Let me briefly laud the author for his ultimate positive take on the ability to deal with dissent in our society. Here is what he wrote.

When I first decided to run for office as a Republican, I knew I was joining a party that stood for limited government, low taxes, free enterprise, individual responsibility and religious freedom. Little did I know that my own story would eventually become a public symbol for some of these freedoms.

Last summer, the Republican Party of Tarrant County, Tex., appointed me as a party vice chair in a nearly unanimous vote. As a longtime party member who has served in other roles, I considered the appointment a true honor. Yet, soon after, a handful of members from the party launched a public effort to remove me from the position — simply because I am Muslim.

For months, my family and I endured a difficult period as the campaign to remove me gained statewide and national attention. On Jan. 10, the motion to oust me failed by 139 votes to 49 votes. The result was heartening, but the effort to oust me was a profoundly disappointing rebuke of religious freedom — a founding principle of our nation.

Religious persecution is not new to my family. In 1947, the British divided India into two countries based upon religion, carving out Muslim-majority areas to create Pakistan. My parents’ families were Muslims, but had lived peacefully in Hindu-majority areas for decades. In the ensuing riots and violence, which resulted in more than 1 million deaths and an estimated 15 million displacements, my parents lost everything.

I came of age in Pakistan under a brutal military dictatorship that used religion as an excuse to kidnap, torture and kill its own citizens. The government censored the media and used the police as an instrument of oppression.

So when I came to the United States in 1990, I was overjoyed to experience the freedoms my forefathers were denied. I took the oath of citizenship in 2009 and looked for opportunities to serve the public because I wanted to give back to the country that had given me so much.

In 2011, I decided to run for city council in Southlake, Tex. At the time, many people did not believe that a Muslim American had a chance of winning an election after 9/11. I disagreed with them, because I believed that in our country, it doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you are going. Voters affirmed my faith in the United States twice, once by electing me in 2014 and again by reelecting me in 2017 (when I ran unopposed).

The reaction to my appointment as party vice chair surprised me, given the support that my colleagues and community invested in me. Fortunately, despite this campaign against my faith, I received overwhelming and heartwarming support from Republicans at all levels of the party — from rank-and-file members to top officials at the local, state and national levels. With the vote to keep me in my position, the party of Lincoln and Reagan has shown that it remains open to all Americans, regardless of their religion, caste, creed, color, ethnicity or country of origin. Looking forward, our party can grow only by embracing Americans of all types.

The same is true of our country. It has a tragic history of discrimination — against women, Catholics, Jews, African Americans and many other groups. Many of those divisions have begun to wither away under the power of our founding principles, our Constitution, our laws and our firm belief in “liberty and justice for all.” In the same vein, we need to ensure that Muslim Americans do not face discrimination because of their religious beliefs. Muslim Americans have contributed tremendously to our country as doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, police officers, firefighters, entrepreneurs, executives, athletes (even a National Football League team owner) and by serving in our armed forces and making the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

A nation divided by fear makes us weaker and our enemies stronger. We need to build trust by breaking bread with people who may not look like us or who speak with an accent. We need to integrate new Americans into our communities through education, employment and participation in our democratic process — opportunities that I benefited from and am immensely grateful for. We need to inspire them to join us by the power of our ideas, our ideals and our hope for a better future for all.

Regardless of when we arrived in this country, we are all Americans with equal rights and responsibilities. We are all guardians of this nation. And as part of this sacred responsibility, we must overcome our fears and learn to trust each other. We must strive to create a more perfect union so that our country may continue to serve as a beacon of liberty and hope — as it was for me, and as I hope it will remain for many others to come.

In the present state of dissent by our national leaders here and in the UK, I think this view represents several things of importance to those who care about freedom and the rights of protest.

First, this man had intimate knowledge of the costs of living under a dictatorship where the rules of law were ignored and millions died.

Second, he came to the USA in 1990 to serve both as a physician and then in 2014 as a citizen when he was elected to the Southlake Texas City Council. When confronted by religious bigotry (against his Muslim religion) he stood up and was again supported by those who have read and understood our traditions, which in Article III of the US Constitution insures our basic rights including the right to practice any religion of our choice.

Finally, we understand how delicately balanced we must be as we support religious freedom, because we know the dangers of religious block voting as in the case of those who support Christianity as though it was entitled to a predominant place in our governance. The present condition of the Republican Party was predicted by Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1970’s when he warned his party about evangelical voices such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who preached that their faiths were superior in many cases to the laws of our Constitution and should be enacted as our laws of the land. Other religions including Catholicism have also led the way for those who did not understand the importance of secular governance.

This battle is not over, nor is it likely to end anytime soon, but we need to constantly remind ourselves of the dire outcomes created by not understanding. All we need to do is look at our own history.

We can take pride in noting cases such as Dr. Shafi’s which allowed him the freedom to practice his faith while serving in a civic role in secular governance. But be aware that this outcome is always going to be at risk and in need of support by what must remain if we care about our personal freedom and a secularly motivated majority willing to keep religion from achieving the dangerous undemocratic dominance of any religion. This of course is so well exemplified in our own history for example, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1621 ruled by the dictatorship of Cotton Mather.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Kindle Store

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