DETROIT — "Oh, by the way on MUSLIM HERITAGE IN America... Have you ever been to a Muslim hospital?" sarcastically wondered Michigan politician and National Republican Committee member Dave Agema in a Facebook post.
Agema's comments drew condemnations from various groups and individuals and revealed the extent of the anti-Muslim sentiments in parts of a state that is home to the largest Muslim community in America.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI), said Agema "has a track record of being anti-Muslim."
Agema shared his comments on his Facebook page in a post praising the Catholic church and its humanitarian efforts that include building hospitals and schools.
However, Walid said the comparison between the Muslim and Catholic communities is illogical as the Catholic church is a much larger and older religious institution than Islam in the United States.
Walid added that there are in fact Muslim charitable healthcare providers.
"Huda clinic has been giving free care to Michiganders for years. The majority of people who get care there are not Muslim," he said. "Agema not only dislikes Muslims, he is making inaccurate statements about the Muslim community. Charity is one of the pillars of Islam."
Agema, a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives, was elected to the Republican National Committee (RNC) at the Michigan G.O.P. State Convention in 2012. He holds conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion rights. He has come under fire recently for a series of offensive anti-gay comments.
The RNC establishes and promotes the G.O.P. platform nationally and coordinates fundraisers and election strategy for Republican candidates.
Walid said he would like to invite Agema to the Muslim community's religious events in southeast Michigan.
"I don't think this man has ever heard about Islamic faith through Michigan Muslims. I doubt he's ever been to a mosque. I would like to invite him to our community to see how we present our faith," Walid said.
The CAIR-MI executive director said that although some state Republicans have distanced themselves from Agema, some of his constituents agree with his "bigoted views," adding that the Republican Party has a problem with racism and xenophobia that it needs to address.
Ryan Fishman, a former Republican who is running for the 13th Michigan Senate District as a Democrat, said some Republicans' xenophobia is one of the principal reasons behind switching his political allegiance.
"Millions of Muslims have made great contributions to American society," he told The Arab American News. "I say that as an advocate of Israel. We might not agree on the conflict in the Middle East, but here we should work together to combat discrimination and ensure the accurate representation of various cultures."
Fishman said some Republicans make racist remarks to hold on to the undiversified country "they think they lived in," adding that the U.S. has always counted on immigrants' influence.
"When my grandparents immigrated to New York, Jews, African Americans, Italians, Arabs and others were coexisting and contributing to the fabric of this nation," he said.
Fishman added that comments like Agema's, along with opposing gay marriage and a woman's right to choose, are hurting the Republican party.
"Our country is changing, and diverse communities are growing. To ignore the needs of these communities is not only bigoted, racist and rooted in fear, it is also politically bad," he said.
As a state representative, Agema introduced in 2012 an "anti-Sharia" bill that would ban the implementation of "foreign law" in the U.S. The bill, which was criticized as anti-Muslim, was supported by then Rep. Chuck Moss and Rep. Tom McMillin, who are both competing for the Republican nomination for the 13th District of the Michigan Senate, where Fishman is running.
Fishman said he will let Moss and McMillin's record on religious tolerance "speak for itself."
House Dems demand Snyder denounce Agema's comments
Democratic State representatives David Knezek (Dearborn Heights), George T. Darany (Dearborn), Rashida Tlaib (Detroit) and Vicki Barnett (Farmington Hills) have called on Governor Rick Snyder to denounce Agema for his recent remarks targeting the Muslim community.
"Agema’s attack on the Muslim community breaks from his ongoing bashing of the LGBT community by insinuating that Muslim Americans offer nothing to the United States," the representatives said in a statement.
As a Christian, I am deeply offended by Mr. Agema’s remarks,” said Knezek. “My hometown of Dearborn Heights is home to a large Muslim population – including well-respected business owners, middle-class families and students. When I read statements such as his, I am both ashamed and embarrassed. For someone who claims to be a man of God, his intolerance and hate are far from the teachings of the church. For someone who claims to be a patriot, he appears to be dangerously unfamiliar with the meaning of freedom and the American dream."
Darany highlighted the contributions of his Muslim constituents in Dearborn.
"I welcome anyone who takes such an interest in our community to come visit before they establish an opinion based on fear and misconceptions," he added.
Barnett urged state Republicans, including Snyder, to put end to Agema's comments, which have "gone too far," by demanding his resignation.
“As the only Muslim in the Michigan Legislature, I am deeply offended by my former colleague’s bigoted comments,” said Tlaib. “He may have the freedom to say what he wants, but the Republican Party and Gov. Snyder have an obligation to the citizens of this state to renounce the hate expressed in his comments. Their continued silence only furthers discrimination against those of Muslim faith in Michigan. Muslims in Michigan have contributed a tremendous amount to education, health, public safety and so many issues that helps Michigan thrive."
Snyder denounced Agema in the opening statements of his State of the State annual address on Thursday without naming him, calling for a "greater degree of civility" in politics.
“Let’s work to bring Michiganders together, not divide us,” the governor said.
Snyder also condemned anti-gay comments by Agema last month, in which the RNC committeeman alleged that gay people demand free healthcare because they are dying of AIDS at a young age.
A few local Republicans denounced Agema's comments, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
Republican State Rep. Frank Foster described the remarks as "moronic."
"He doesn’t speak for me," Foster told the Michael Patrick Shiels radio show.
Dan Pero, the president of the American Justice Partnership who served as chief of staff to former Republican Governor John Engler, blasted Agema in a Facebook post.
"Mr. Agema, when you swing and attack gays without reservation, you are attacking many of my friends and family," Pero stated. "When you spew stupid words about all Muslims, you attack my friends and members of our Party. Shame on you."
Agema, the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee did not return The Arab American News' requests for comments.