Michael Ryan

Shafi long ago passed this unfair test; will the GOP pass its?

‘I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive,’ says Shahid Shafi on being American and a Muslim

A small group within the Tarrant County Republican Party has been calling for Dr. Shahid Shafi to be removed from his post as vice chairman because he is a Muslim. Many more have come out in support of Shafi.
Up Next
A small group within the Tarrant County Republican Party has been calling for Dr. Shahid Shafi to be removed from his post as vice chairman because he is a Muslim. Many more have come out in support of Shafi.

A small group of Tarrant County Republicans has famously raised questions about Shahid Shafi’s religious faith.

They’d best not question his faith in the Republican Party. It’s unshaken, even after months of cruel, wacky, narrow-minded claims by a choice few that his Islamic faith makes him, and presumably all the other 3.5 million Muslims in the U.S, incompatible with the American values Republicans hold dear.

“I’ve always felt welcome in the party. And that hasn’t changed,” Shafi, the Tarrant County GOP vice chairman, told me recently. “If anything, it has reaffirmed my faith in the party.”

Astounding. How many of us could, as a Christian might put it, turn the other cheek thusly, after the fringe group’s prolonged and hurtful effort to remove him as vice chairman? You can find Shafi’s picture next to “loyalty” in the dictionary.

“It’s not been easy for our family. It’s been extremely painful,” he acknowledged.

Still, he is utterly unbowed. A student of history, especially the American variety, Shafi takes strength from the fortitude of America’s founders, their exhortations of equality, and the admiring eye his elders turned toward the beacon of freedom here during the Pakistan of his youth.

“We looked up to America for inspiration,” he recalls glowingly. “That hasn’t changed for me.”

Nor does it hurt that the State Republican Executive Committee on Dec. 1 unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the party’s devotion to religious liberty, pointedly right in front of Shafi — who was prepared to speak in his own defense but watched in gratitude as GOP leader after GOP leader at the meeting in Austin did it for him.

“That brought tears to my eyes,” he says.

Tears also came quickly to an area veteran who, like many others, called Shafi to offer his support, saying he’d spent a lifetime defending the constitutional values Shafi has been forced to claim for himself.

Yet, Shafi maintains this isn’t even about him or a party post, that it’s the foundational concepts of the country and the principles of the party that are at stake — as well as the ability of good, patriotic men and women of all backgrounds and faiths to pledge to each other the same lives, fortunes and sacred honor that our founders did in the Declaration of Independence’s most moving passage.

“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming and heartwarming,” Shafi says, adding that it has reaffirmed not only his faith in the Republican Party but in America itself.

“I am a living example that one can be a practicing Muslim and a good American,” he adds.

I’ve observed this man at length, taking his measure in private conversation and watching him at work — not as a surgeon or Southlake councilman, but as the patriot he clearly is. I watched him re-tell the story of Valley Forge to open a party confab. As we’ve written before, his passion for America isn’t a jihadi mind trick. It’s real, and it’s as deep with him as anyone I’ve ever met.

So I find it embarrassingly unnecessary, and a high insult, for him to have to prove his allegiance to America, particularly after the Japanese internment camps of World War II and the head-high obstacles placed in front of Jews, Catholics, women, blacks and other disenfranchised groups in our not-too-distant past.

You would’ve thought we’d have gotten beyond this kind of identity politics. Apparently not. When Shafi first ran for Southlake city council in 2011, “good, well-meaning people” told him to give up on that because of 9-11. He did lose, and people trotted out the I-told-you-so’s. But he ran again and won in 2014, followed by his three-word victory speech: “Only in America.” In 2017, he ran unopposed.

As Shafi faces a Thursday decision by the Tarrant County GOP executive committee on his continued vice chairmanship — the vote had better be a rout, if the county party wants to begin repairing its tattered image — he takes further succor in the words of American revolutionary Thomas Paine: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Amazingly, Shafi argues the party can emerge from this internecine strife stronger and more inclusive — and that it can be “an opportunity to remind ourselves of what we truly stand for as a nation.”

Paraphrasing Paine, these have been times that have tried Shahid Shafi’s soul. He’s been much more than up to the test.

The only question now is, will Tarrant County Republicans be up to theirs?

The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.