Tea Party fave Marco Rubio has been urged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to boycott a North Florida event headlined by Brigitte Gabriel, a fiery anti-Islam speaker. But the event's organizer says Gabriel is staying on the schedule -- and Rubio should think twice about declining his invite because of CAIR's advocacy.
"If anyone backs out because of CAIR, I will mark them as cowards," Geoff Ross, a retired Naval officer who heads the Emerald Coast Tea Party Patriots, says in an interview with Riptide.
Ross says he booked Gabriel for the August 21 Fort Walton rally because he thinks her views on Islam are bolstered by a strong life story. The Lebanese native says her home was attacked by Muslim fighters and that her family was nearly killed.
"She's not a racist; she's anti-terrorist and anti-radical Islam," Ross says. "They're trying to shut down her First Amendment rights by threatening politicians."
If Gabriel isn't racist, she has staked out a position that skirts the line pretty closely.
According to a review of her positions by the New York Times, she's said that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to serve in the U.S. military
or to hold political office and that the Islamic world hews to "barbarism." CAIR says she's called for a ban on Muslims holding public office. And, according to the Times, in an interview with an Australian paper she said that "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim."
The record was strong enough that even the Gray Lady's public editor was comfortable calling her a "radical Islamophobe" and a "crusader."
CAIR cited all of those views earlier this week when it called on Ross to drop her from his "U.S. Constitution Freedom Rally" and urged Rubio not to attend.
Gabriel will certainly remain on the schedule, Ross says: "I am not canceling her keynote."
So, will Rubio attend? As we detail in our feature story this week, he has relied on the Tea Party to topple Charlie Crist from the GOP primary and still regularly attends the movement's rallies.
But he's also trying to move toward the middle before the general election, and an event headlined by Gabrielle might be just the kind of fire-starter Rubio needs to avoid at the moment.
Alex Burgos, Rubio's spokesman, hasn't returned an email from Riptide about whether he'll speak at the rally. Ross says he hasn't heard back from the campaign yet either.
"His invitation stands, and I hope he'll be there," Ross says.
Update: A PR rep for Gabriel emailed Riptide asking for some clarifications. We're reprinting his email in full below. But we've also asked for our own clarification: Does Gabriel believe Muslims should be allowed to serve in the military? And does she think they should be allowed to hold office?
The Times is clear that she doesn't believe they can serve "loyally," so her implication, obviously, is that they shouldn't be allowed to serve. And CAIR states categorically that she's called for a ban on Muslims in public office.
If we hear back from the flak, we'll update again. Here's the email:
We noticed your blog post today on the Miami New Times Politicks blog titled: "Marco Rubio Urged To Boycott Tea Party Event Featuring 'Radical Islamophobe."' The piece has a couple points in regards to Brigitte Gabriel that should be clarified:
1. The piece indicates that Ms. Gabriel has "said that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to serve in the U.S. military," and you cited the New York Times' public editor Clark Hoyt piece from August 21, 2008. Nowhere is that found in the piece. Instead, the piece states: "Gabriel believes that Muslims cannot serve loyally in the U.S. military." She explained why in a briefing to the military on the true loyalties of those in the Muslim faith.
2. You also indicate she doesn't believe Muslims should be allowed to "hold political office." Nowhere is this even alluded to in the New York Times piece nor in anything they have previously published referring to Ms. Gabriel.
3. The final quote "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim," did not come from the New York Times as you reference. It is not even from an Australian Jewish newspaper...but it was a quote from a blog post whose own journalistic approach did not include an interview with Ms. Gabriel.
In addition, we wanted to point out in the line "If Gabriel isn't racist, she's staked out a position that skirts the line pretty closely," you take a very personal and unnecessary jump. Yet it is not backed up in the next few paragraphs in which you proceed to talk about Islam, which is a religion, with no discussion or examples referring to race or racism.
We respectfully suggest a correction of the above in the piece.
Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
Update 2: We asked Cunningham to ask Gabriel clear up her stance on whether Muslims should be allowed to serve in the military and to hold political office. Here are her responses.
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Gabriel on Muslims holding public office:
Muslims have the same rights as other Americans to run for office, and the same right to hold political office if they are elected.
Gabriel on Muslims in the military:
I do not support a comprehensive ban on Muslims serving in our military. Muslims like Zuhdi Jasser have served our nation honorably. I do believe our armed forces must impose greater scrutiny on the affiliations and associations of Muslims who want to enter our military, because terrorist organizations like al Qaeda are attempting to infiltrate our armed forces. Our military must also do a much better job of identifying behaviors among Muslim armed services personnel that are precursors to the kinds of jihadist attacks we saw at Ft. Hood and other instances where Islamist soldiers killed their fellow soldiers in the name of their radical ideology.