‘Islamophobia’ charge rocks Michigan governor debate

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

East Lansing — Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed on Thursday called for Republican rivals to condemn “Islamophobia” and “racism” after comments by GOP hopeful Patrick Colbeck during a rare forum featuring all seven candidates from the two major parties.

“You may not hate Muslims, but Muslims hate you,” El-Sayed said after imploring the GOP field.

The tense exchange came after Colbeck, a state senator and Canton Township Republican, reiterated his disputed and unsubstantiatedclaims that El-Sayed has “affiliations” with the Muslim Brotherhood. The only proof he offered was that Shelby Township Democrat was part of the Muslim Students Association while attending the University of Michigan.

The national student group was named 27 years ago in an “explanatory memo” by a Muslim Brotherhood operative and some chapters have “hosted al-Qaida leaders” for campus speeches, Colbeck claimed.

El-Sayed is a practicing Muslim who has previously denied any affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood but on Thursday refused to dignify Colbeck’s comments, even after calling on Republican candidates Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Dr. Jim Hines to disavow them.

When Lyndon B. Johnson first ran for Congress, he “insinuated his opponent was having relationships with animals just to hear him deny it,” El-Sayed said after the forum. “I’m not interested in denying something that’s just not true.”

Instead of responding directly to Colbeck and his claims about Sharia religious law creeping into the United States, El-Sayed noted that he or any candidate elected governor will have to take an oath to swear and uphold the state and federal constitutions.

It “guarantees me the right to pray as I choose to pray” and says that “no religious test shall be held over someone aiming to serve under this constitution,” El-Sayed said. “That is an incredible document.”

Colbeck denied that his repeated warnings of “civilization jihad” are rooted in racism or white supremacism.

“I love Muslims. It’s not an issue. The issue is terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

None of the other Republican candidates for governor addressed Colbeck’s comments during the forum. But Calley said after the event that he does “not agree with what Sen. Colbeck said.”

Colbeck made similar comments in a video that surfaced last month and was posted online by The United West of Florida, which has been called an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Michigan GOP distanced itself from Colbeck’s previous comments, with a spokeswoman saying the party is not interested in “peddling any conspiracy theories.”

State Rep. Abdullah Hammound, a Dearborn Democrat who is Michigan’s only Muslim lawmaker, has called on Colbeck to resign.

Former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, an early frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said Thursday she is “horrified” that “people use issues like this to divide us.”

Democrat Shri Thanedar of Ann Arbor, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1979 and became a citizen in 1988, said there is no place for “bigotry and intolerance” in Michigan or Washington, D.C.

El-Sayed is a favorite of the progressive left and was recently endorsed by the Our Revolution group that formed in the wake of Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sander’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“Every second we’re talking about this is a second we’re not talking about fixing roads for people, making sure schools stay public, making sure people have access to the water they deserve as citizens of the Great Lakes state,” he said.

Whitmer also lamented the combative tone of the forum, which was also marked by combative exchange between Schuette and Calley, who accused his rival of violating his pledge to put all his assets into a public trust while serving as attorney general.

“I think you saw a lot of people foraying into things that don’t really matter to Michigan voters,” she said. “That’s why I try to always get back to making sure that we’ve got Michiganders who have skills so they can get into higher wage jobs, who clean up drinking water for Michigan families, that we protect health care and fix the damn roads.”


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