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GOP event at Bloomington mosque inspires right-wing freak-out

Mark Vancleave, Star Tribune

Mark Vancleave, Star Tribune

Earlier this year, Zavier Bicott, who works with a citywide inclusion group called One Bloomington, sat down with the leaders of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center.

He was there to talk about what city amenities could use improvement. That’s when he got an interesting question.

“One of our members got to know that Zavier was a Republican,” Dar Al-Farooq’s executive director, Mohamed Omar, said. In fact, Bicott is the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota. So they asked why Republicans attack Islam, and why they aren’t open to Muslims joining the party.

This is a question of particular importance to the Dar Al-Farooq Center. The mosque has been attacked by people who see Islam as something opposed to American life, rather than part of it. Last summer, a bomb went off at the Islamic Center.

No one was hurt, and some conservatives (including Donald Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka) suggested the explosion had the makings of an inside job, a PR stunt to garner sympathy. Later last fall, the mosque was broken into.

In March, three Illinois men were arrested for the bombing. According to investigators, the men had wanted to “scare” Muslims “out of the country.” 

Bicott has run into a less extreme version of this sentiment before. There’s this notion, he says, that there’s only room in the Republican party for “old rich white men." He doesn’t think that’s true. The Republican Liberty Caucus, he says, is very open-minded. It calls itself “the conscience of the Republican Party.” There’s supposed to be room for everyone interested in the libertarian philosophy of “individual rights, limited government, and free markets,” according to the group’s website.

So Bicott arranged with Dar Al-Farooq to have the Republican Liberty Caucus’s annual convention there. They’d conduct their normal convention duties and bring in some Muslim Republicans to share their stories. It wouldn’t be a big event. The Dar Al-Farooq gymnasium can only hold 500 people. But it’s a start.

“We want to show the Republican party as a viable option,” Bicott says.

Not everyone is as welcoming. The Republican Liberty Caucus posted the event on Facebook, and the comments were predictably negative.

The chain of comments was hundreds of entries long, peppered with anger and disbelief. A comment or two mentioned reaching out to Bicott to figure out whether or not the event was even real.

“I don’t even know what we did to make them so uncomfortable,” Omar says. Conventions happen in religious centers all the time, he says. This is no different. Their doors are open to anyone who wants to come in and use the space.

Some of the commenters were glad the convention was going to happen at Dar Al-Farooq.

Bicott’s aware of the online squabbling, but he says, “quantitatively,” there’s been more support than flak for the Liberty Caucus' plan. He wishes people wouldn’t use Facebook as a forum for this kind of argument anyway, for or against. Those who really support the caucus should either donate or come to the convention.

And by extension, those who disagree should just not come. That’s what personal liberty is all about.