June 12, 2014

I am an American. The question is, are you?

My experience at the 2014 Texas GOP convention

Posted on June 11, 2014
By Heba Said

My heart palpitated with the unnerved feeling I had just from the thought of attending a Republican convention as a veiled Muslim woman.

It is not news that Republicans don’t seem to like Muslims. As close as the city of Keller, and as recently as last week, Trustee Jo Lynn Haussmann wrote on her Facebook page “SOUTH LAKE - Do you realize because SO FEW voters took the time and responsibility to VOTE in the municipal elections - YOU NOW HAVE A ‘MUSLIM’ on the City Council!!! What A SHAME!!!!!” 

The comments have since been deleted and referred to Southlake councilman Shahid Shafi. 

With influences such as Pamela Gellar and Pat Robertson, it is no wonder that Republicans are so easily associated with Anti-Islam sentiments, the instigation of Islamophobia and outright hatred toward Muslims.

After two days at the convention, the only emotions I could describe were anger and disappointment.

I attended the convention as a reporter hoping to tell readers about the panel discussions I attended, but I discovered a cult-like hatred that is simply disgusting.

As I walked through the halls, people stopped in their tracks and frowned and shook their heads at me. Panelists threw the word “Islamist” around as if it were perfectly OK, and one man even asked if I felt alone at a meeting. I was referred to as “you people” and “y’all Muslims” more times than I can count. The worst part was the way delegates looked at me, as if I were something to fear when I approached them.

The Muslim voter was disregarded completely in discussions on how to tackle politically engaging religious minority groups. So as a reporter, I asked, how the Republican party plans to reach out to the eighth largest Muslim population in the United States. The sheer lack of regard for that population was appalling. 

After discussing with one candidate whether there were Muslim outreach plans, I almost didn’t feel like I was allowed to be American, as if what he said stripped me from my American identity. He asked me where I was from. When I responded, “Texas,” he asked me where I was really from, as if there were no way it could possibly be from Texas.

Ted Cruz attended the event and took photos with his supporters. As I waited for him to return from a phone call so that I could grab some photos to tweet out, a police officer nearby came up to me and said hello. I responded hello. A normal interaction, I guess. Shortly after, I found five police officers behind me, hands on holsters watching me intently. Armed with a press badge and an iPhone, I turned to them held up my media credentials and asked if I could help them with something, as my heart tried to escape my chest. They did not respond but broke up into groups of two and continued watching me. If I was the biggest threat at that convention, then I must be seriously underestimating myself.

I cannot believe how a piece of cloth made from cotton and polyester can instill so many misconceptions in people.

I am still angered by the experience. I have the constitutional right to be a Muslim, and no one, not even Ted Cruz or five police officers, has the right to make me feel inferior. They definitely do not have any right to hate not just Muslims, but any race, creed or population. My vote may not be on your agenda, but my vote counts as much as anybody’s who votes in this country.

To the man who followed me into the IHOP bathroom after calling me a terrorist, to the woman who said she would see me in Hell at the grocery store, to the girl who pulled my hijab off my head during a fire drill in ninth grade, and to the hundreds of people who have asked me where I’m really from — I am an American. The question is, are you?