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Muslim group calls for apology by legislator for his remarks

The Legislative Building of the Washington State Capitol, Olympia.

February 16, 2015 - 4:00 pm

By John Stang

An organization of American Muslims said Thursday that Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, should apologize publicly for saying it is a subsidiary of violent Middle East groups.

In reply, Haler issued a press release saying he has apologized twice in private for his remarks.

The controversy dates back to a Jan. 14 hearing of the Washington House Judiciary Committee on a bill by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien to repeal a state Cold War sedition law. Instead, committee members Haler and Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, wanted to keep that law intact and add Middle East terrorist organizations to it.

Haler wanted to add the Council on American-Islamic Relations — or CAIR — to the list, The Seattle Times reported. “We do have a group in this country called CAIR, which is basically run by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, they are a political entity” Haler said in The Times’ story. “And their goal is to overthrow the country.”

“His remarks came as a surprise to us. … We were founded (in 1994) in America by Americans, funded by people in our own state,” said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of CAIR’s Washington state chapter. CAIR tackles discrimination and other Muslim empowerment matters in the United States.

CAIR – along with representatives from the Faith Action Network, OneAmerica and the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance — met with Haler twice in private. They wanted to express their concerns, seek a public apology and to find out what information he had to link CAIR to Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, their representatives said at a Thursday press conference in Olympia. Haler never provided information to CAIR on the alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, they said.

The lack of a public apology prompted the organizations to issue a letter Thursday to ask Haler for an apology in public.

“Comments such as yours that invoke long-discredited theories, especially because of your position of authority and power as a state lawmaker, can have an extraordinary harmful impact on the safety and welfare of Muslims across our state,” said the letter, signed by 19 state organizations, plus several Muslims living in the Tri-Cities area.

The organizations holding the press conference pointed to two 2014 anti-Muslim incidents in Washington, including one in Haler’s own district. A Burbank man with a sign saying “Death to Islam” picketed the Tri-Cities’ main mosque in West Richland on Sept. 28. He also had a pistol in a holster with him, according to the Tri-City Herald. On Dec. 7, 2014, Muslim cab driver Adan Gaal, a 34-year-old American citizen who moved to the United States from Somalia in 1999, was repeatedly punched in the face by one man in an all-white group of three men and one woman in his cab.

Gaal said of Haler’s Jan.14 remarks: “Some people might take it seriously and the same thing that happened to me will happen to someone else.

Haler declined to talk about the matter. But he issued a written statement that said: “I respect the views brought forth by the groups in today’s press conference. I have acknowledged that my comments may have unintentionally offended some. I met with a group of constituents in Olympia on Jan. 19 to apologize. Furthermore, I met with CAIR and (the Faith Action Network) on Feb. 2 to extend my apologies. It is unfortunate that these two instances do not satisfy their definition of apology.”

Fitzgibbon’s bill to repeal the sedition law has not yet come up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.