Bud Kennedy

June 12, 2014

A Muslim reporter’s icy welcome from Texas GOP: ‘Where are you from?’

The UT Arlington student says she was the target of comments and followed by officers during the state Republican convention.

Even conservatives were quick to criticize a Keller school trustee’s bigotry.

But while most of north Tarrant County denounced Jo Lynn Haussmann’s Muslim-bashing last week, another story unfolded in downtown Fort Worth.

UT Arlington senior Heba Said, opinion editor of The Shorthorn, wrote Wednesday about the disgusted looks and comments of “you people” and “y’all Muslims” directed her way as she covered the Republican state convention.

In one panel session, a prominent official of the Republican Party of Texas repeatedly described all Muslims as Islamists.

At an autograph event for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Fort Worth police circled Said and then followed her.

Said, 22, is a star student, a Texan and a graduate of Trinity High School in Euless, one of the nation’s most diverse and successful schools.

Her column answered convention delegates’ persistent question, “Where are you from?”

“I am an American,” she wrote.

“The question is, are you?”

Said’s appehension about the convention was borne out, she wrote: “I discovered a cult-like hatred that is simply disgusting.”

She said Thursday she has voted for candidates in both parties and went to the convention as a college reporter with an open mind to learn about the party’s minority outreach efforts.

She definitely did.

“They talked about religious diversity, and only mentioned the Jewish community,” she said.

“I was just surprised. Texas has one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, and Dallas’ population is four times the national average. I expected to hear more.”

Former state party Vice Chairman Robin Armstrong of Friendswood moderated a panel discussion on minority outreach.

He remembered Said as a “very appealing, nice, polite young lady.”

“I had to tell her,” he said a little sheepishly, “that I don’t know of much Muslim outreach.”

He mentioned the party’s scattered Muslim precinct chairs, which would include Southlake City Council member Shahid Shafi, the target of Haussmann’s wrath.

Armstrong used the word Islamists. He said: “I use Muslims and Islamists interchangeably. I thought they meant the same thing.”

Uh — no.

(Might be a good topic for the next minority outreach.)

Said wasn’t totally critical. The first day, she wrote, she felt welcomed as a reporter.

“I was nervous about going, but I wanted the experience,” she said.

“I didn’t want to judge people by what you see on TV. But some of the delegates really acted like they were angry I was there.”

Said’s reception and the Haussmann incident remind Texas and Tarrant County that we must work harder against prejudice, said the Rev. Bob Roberts Jr. of NorthWood Church in Keller, a Southern Baptist congregation promoting interfaith outreach.

“Look at the way people are treating Hispanics right now over immigration,” he said.

“Look at the way Texans treat Muslims. … I think Texas has been in its own little world, but immigration is changing that, and it isn’t going away.”

“You people” are our people.

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