Republicans are set to vote on Shahid Shafi’s fate as vice chair of a Texas county after a minority expressed distrust over a practising Muslim of Pakistani origin representing constituents.
Some are seeing it as an issue that has split the Republican Party like never before. And at its centre is a Muslim trauma surgeon.
Shahid Shafi, who emigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1990, is vice chairman of the party’s chapter in Tarrant County, one of the largest counties in the state of Texas.
For the past few months, several colleagues in GOP, or the Grand Old Party as the Republican Party is known, have led a campaign for his removal from his leadership role.
They say that 53-year-old Shafi is a practising Muslim and Islamic ideology runs counter to the US constitution.
On Thursday, January 10, party members in Tarrant County will vote on whether he should be removed from his post.
Senior Republican leaders, including Senator Ted Cruz, have come out in support of Shafi, insisting that religious bigotry could damage the party.
I again urge my friends in the Tarrant County Republican Party to do the right thing and vote to support Shahid Shafi as vice chairman of the party. Religious litmus tests are wrong--whether they occur in my party or whether its Democratic Senators who have questioned https://t.co/3dpWgxl6kz— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) January 9, 2019
In last year’s midterm elections, the Republicans suffered a setback in Tarrant, considered the most conservative county in the US, when it flipped in favor of the Democrats.
Members now fear that Shafi’s removal could push more voters into the fold of the Democrats.
Fear of the terrorist
Shafi, who has worked as a trauma and rehabilitation expert in various universities and hospitals in Texas, joined the Republican Party soon after receiving US nationality in 2009.
In 2014, he was elected as a councillor in the City of Southlake.
“When I decided to run for the City Council in Southlake, many people did not believe that a Muslim had a chance of winning an election in post-9/11 America,” he recently wrote in an open letter.
“I disagreed with them because I believe that in this country, what matters is who you are as an individual -- not where you came from.”
However, in recent months he has had his moments of doubt.
Since last year, when he was appointed as the vice chairman of the party’s Tarrant County chapter, he has been the victim of wild and unsubstantiated accusations - ranging from him being part of the Muslim Brotherhood to being a supporter of Sharia law.
Shafi denies all allegations.
The person behind the campaign against him is Dorrie O’Brien, a precinct chairwoman, who makes no secret of her dislike of Islam.
This is the face of hate in Tarrant County, TX. Dorrie O'Brien is leading a group in an effort to oust Dr. Shahid Shafi from an his position as vice chair of the county GOP because he's Muslim. She has posted on FB that she does not think "Islam is safe or acceptable in the U.S." pic.twitter.com/r2FAmJjxpX— Frank Morales, CHW (@UCFrank) January 10, 2019
Her Facebook page is full of tirades against a perceived Muslim onslaught on America and she regularly cites content from Islamophobic website, Jihad Watch, to support her arguments.
“We don’t think he’s suitable as a practising Muslim to be vice chair because he’d be the representative for ALL Republicans in Tarrant County, and not ALL Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable in the US,” O’Brien wrote in a January 1 post.
She also says that being a practising Muslim makes Shafi a proponent of Sharia law. What’s interesting is that 70 percent of O’Brien’s Precinct 2466 voted Democrat in the November election.
Shafi has received widespread support from Republican leaders, including the Texas GOP Executive Committee, which has distanced itself from the vote, fearing it could reinforce the xenophobic perception of the party.
“I can’t believe some in the @tarrantgop want to vote out Shahid Shafi as its vice chairman. He believes in less govt, fiscal responsibility & more freedom - bedrock #TexasGOP values. There's no place for discrimination in our Rep. Party. Period,” Ryan Sitton, a Republican politician, and Texas Railroad Commissioner, tweeted.
Editorials in various newspapers have also cautioned the Republicans that a vote against Shafi could damage their prospects in next presidential elections.
“Rest assured, this grotesque battle over whether a Muslim — any Muslim, evidently — can be a good American or party functionary has done more damage to the Tarrant County GOP than any external threat ever could,” said the Star-Telegram in a January 6 editorial.
An article in the Wall Street Journal commented: “We hope he wins the recall vote.”