This Monday morning, anti-Muslim protesters hoisting American flags took to the sidewalks outside of Houston's new Arabic Immersion Magnet School. It was like a scene straight out of 1957 Little Rock.
The protesters were greeted by four- and five-year-olds with their brand new backpacks, some of them going to school for the first time ever. For all of them, though, they were attending the first Arabic immersion school in the country. They'll learn English and social studies in English and math and science in Arabic. To the protesters outside, however, somehow this equated to teaching a religion (Islam, of course), supporting jihadist terrorism, and denouncing American patriotism and culture.
“Everything I ever cared to know about Islam was taught to me by Muslims on 9-11-2001,” one sign read.
“QATAR OUT OF OUR Schools,” read another.
“It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic,” Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, told the Houston Press this week. “The school is just trying to teach the students Arabic—it's just learning a language. And I don't know why someone would protest that. It really doesn't make any sense whatsoever to me.”
Carroll sees any opportunity to be exposed to Arabic language and culture as a positive step for the community—especially in a city whose primary industry is oil and energy. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Arabic-speaking population in Houston grew by one-third between 2009 and 2013, up to 23,300 people.
And although many Arabic speakers are not even Muslim, that mattered little to the protesters outside HISD's immersion school this week. “Any time there's an Arab anything or a Muslim anything, these folks come out of the woodwork," Carroll said.
Here are six more times that happened in Texas this year.
6. Third grade teacher spews anti-Muslim hate on right-wing TV show
For some reason, a Houston-area third-grade teacher, Angela Box, found it appropriate to go live on a local right-wing cable-access show, Tommy's Garage, and say that “every normal human being in the world thinks that goat-fucking Muslims and boy-fucking Muslims are the evil of the world.” Although that was the episode that ultimately led to her resignation, the behavior was unsurprising coming from Box, a weekly regular on the show who frequently spewed anti-Muslim speech. Among choice comments from her time on the show: "Let the bacon-haters shoot up their own targets. Then it's a big win for all of us."
5. Conference aiming to dispel Islamophobia draws ...well, Islamophobia
Although the theme of the January Muslim conference at the Curtis Caldwell Center in Garland was “Stand With the Prophet Against Terror And Hate,” the attitude outside on the streets was, well, pretty terrorizing and hateful. Hundreds of protesters gathered holding signs like, “Sharia Free Zone” and “You are NOT American. Don't fly our flags!” But inside, the Muslim attendees were waving the flags only to show they only want peace. The conference, which was also held in several other cities across the country, aimed to fight against Islamophobia and mend misunderstandings about the religion. That wasn't received very well by the Islamophobes. "We're trying to stand up and defend the American way of life from a faction of people who are trying to destroy it,” one man told NBC News. The conference's next date in Houston drew the same type of angry, hateful crowd outside.
4. Houston high school teacher gives lesson on "radical Islamists"
In March, an teacher at Foster High School in Richmond gave a pretty nasty social studies lesson about Islam. He handed out an eight-page document, which he appeared to author, called "Islam/Radical Islam (Did You Know)." Virtually nothing was cited, or accurate. And it ultimately led one Muslim student in the room to complain to her parents, who alerted the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR provided some of the lesson's grossest examples to the Houston Press, including "Islam is more of an ideology than a religion. It is also an ideology of war," and, "You will either give into their demands recognizing Islam's 'noble' rule, you will become a Muslim yourself, or you will die." There was even a section about what to do if taken hostage by "radical Islamists." Although CAIR brought this to the school administration's attention, it's not clear how the school disciplined the unidentified teacher. The school told KHOU it was “disappointed"—that the teacher made changes to a lesson plan.
3. Texas (Anti?) Muslim Capitol Day
Being away from the office didn't stop Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) from actively participating in Texas Muslim Capitol Day on January 29. She graciously left specific instructions to staffers in case any Muslims entered her office. “I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” she wrote on Facebook. “We will see how long they stay in my office.” Such a warm invitation.
Protesters ultimately participated in the party, too. Carroll, who remembers the vast majority of Texas Muslim Capitol Day visitors being students that day, said, “These same kinds of folks came out to protest us taking kids to the capitol to learn how to be good citizens. This was the most American thing you can do. But somehow, it's seen as a nefarious act when Muslims do it.”
2. Farmersville Residents Lash Out About Islamic Graveyard
After an Islamic group purchased some land in July to build a cemetery in Farmersville, north of Dallas, the locals perceived it as Muslims coming in to overtake the future of the town. One resident, Medford Sumrow, told NPR, “We don't need that crap up here. What the hell they want to come up here and jack with Farmersville for?” But changing things was never part of the group's agenda—they were just running out of space to bury their dead. “Nobody's looking to come in and change anything,” Khalil Abdur-Rashid told the radio host. “We saw this land and saw this property and we thought it would be a beautiful place to preserve the memory of folks that we thought were beautiful.” An offensive idea to some people, apparently.
1. Houston mosque burns, receives outpouring of hate
Even though the homeless man accused of setting fire to Houston's Quba Islamic Institute in February said it was an accident, that didn't stop the Internet from reacting hatefully—toward the members of the mosque, that is. One Facebook user wrote, "I don't know why, but I suddenly feel like throwing severed pig-heads at every Muslim on my path." And another, a truck driver from Georgia, said that he “hopes a mosque burns for every American killed by these terrorists.” At the time of the fire, Assistant Imam Ahsan Zahid told the Houston Press, "It definitely makes you think and wonder why people think that way. It's a very simple thing. You have to understand that we are here to promote love, that's all." So, after publicly forgiving the homeless man for the fire, Zahid responded personally to the hateful comments. He invited the trucker to the mosque, and the trucker accepted. After spending five hours speaking to Islamic Institute members and watching them pray, the guy even issued a public apology.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.