Muslim group blasts Agema’s ‘camel jockeys’ comment

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Muslim advocacy group is calling on the governor to condemn a controversial Michigan Republican National Committee member’srecent online comments interpreted as referring to people of Middle East ancestry as “camel jockeys.”

The Facebook post, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations shared on the group’s own Facebook page this week, was Dave Agema’s response to an article on about Islamic extremists overseas allegedly training in captured fighter jets with Iraqi defector pilots.

“I wouldn’t be too concerned over this. American or Isrseli (sic) fighter pilots could take all of these out in a single day,” Agema wrote in the Oct. 19 post. “We had a saying in the Air Force that camel jockeys don’t make good fighter pilots and the Israelis proved this to be accurate.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said his group sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder’s office Friday asking him to denounce Agema.

“Gov. Snyder alludes to openness in the state and being pro-immigrant ... but he also needs to call out xenophobes and bigots within his own party,” Walid said.

Agema, he said, “has a long track record of making Islamophobic and racist comments … and it’s frankly deplorable that the GOP leadership allows this man to have a platform and that he has not been purged from his leadership position.”

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said Friday the governor has “been incredibly clear on his position about discrimination being wrong, period, and denouncing this kind of language, and that there’s no place for it in any political party, as well as calling for civility.”

Reached Friday, Agema said his comments were misconstrued and the term “camel jockeys” was used to refer to foreign fighter pilots who were not as well-trained as American or Israeli ones.

Agema added his statement was not intended to be racist or discriminatory and the ensuing dispute “is just a smokescreen to take the emphasis away from the fact that ISIS is an enemy of ours. ... This is political correctness run amok, as usual.”

The uproar is the latest controversy for Agema, who was elected as Michigan’s RNC committeeman in May 2012.

He had been in the spotlight for inflammatory statements or re-posting of articles on Facebook that GOP leaders rejected as divisive and inappropriate.

In January, The Detroit News reported Betsy DeVos, a former head of the state Republican Party, called for him to resign after he made insulting comments about Muslims and homosexuals. Others in the party, including Michigan GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak, joined in the call for his resignation.

Despite the mounting pressure, Agema told The News at the time he regretted some of his posts but would not step down.

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