Talk about the Elephant in the room.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's call for "a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” has spurred months of news media focus on alleged "Islamophobia."
In general, that drumbeat of coverage hasn't thrilled your friendly GetReligionistas:
Neither did I expect to be impressed by this latest story from the Washington Post:
A Christian pastor in the nation’s third-most-populous county tried to stop a Muslim man from serving in the local Republican Party because of his religion.
The massive jurisdiction of Harris County, Tex. — with 4 million residents in the city of Houston and its surroundings — has more than 1,000 precincts, and the Republican Party appoints a chair for every single one. Approving the people picked by a committee to fill some of those spots should have been a run-of-the-mill task.
But Trebor Gordon stood up at a meeting of the county’s GOP on Monday night. He said that Syed Ali — a 62-year-old Houston resident who has been a loyal Republican since the Reagan administration — should not be appointed.
Gordon said that Ali should be blocked “on the grounds that Islam does not have any basis or any foundation. It is the total opposite of our foundation.”
“Islam and Christianity do not mix,” Gordon said. Party chairman Paul Simpson said that Gordon serves as chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party and is a part-time pastor at a Houston-area church.
My knee-jerk translation after reading the first few paragraphs: Somebody somewhere said something nutty about Muslims — and now it's national news because he's a "Christian pastor."
To be sure, there's a certain level of truth to that assessment.
But after reading the whole story, I came away with a different point of view. I appreciate both the tone and the approach of the writer and the Post.
Why is that? For one thing, the term "Islamophobia" never rears its vague, ugly head. For another, the newspaper avoids broad generalizations about Republicans and Christians and others who might have opinions on Muslims.
Instead, the Post quotes specific sources by name and allows them — in their own, nuanced words — to respond to what the pastor said, including this speaker:
Ali did not speak during the debate. One precinct chair, Dave Smith, came to his defense. “In our founding document, the Constitution, even back 230 years ago, when our founding fathers were establishing rules by which our country would be governed, they specifically put in there: no religious test,” Smith said. “No religious test is good enough for the founding fathers. It’s good enough for me.
The newspaper also contacts Ali and gives him a chance to address what was said:
Ali told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he was surprised but not hurt by Gordon’s motion. “It doesn’t bother me at all, as a Republican, as an American, as a Muslim,” he said. “Everyone’s entitled to their view.” He said he appreciated that the majority of the people in the room voted in his favor, and many people he had never met before that night approached him after the meeting to offer “nothing but encouragement.”
“After that incident, God blessed those people who come to me,” Ali said.
Ali, a Houston resident, said he sees Republican values as deeply consistent with Muslim values. Both the party and the religion value preserving life, helping the needy and treating all people equally, he said. “I am happy and more stronger than before. I’ll do whatever I can do for the country and the party and the people.”
At the end, the Post turns to an active Republican who opposed the pastor's motion to discuss "anti-Muslim viewpoints" in light of Trump's position. The source talks. The newspaper reports.
No, it's not rocket science. It's Journalism 101, really. But on this often-loaded subject matter, it's a refreshing change.