DALLAS – After a week of media scrutiny, public debate, protest and calls for council action, testimony at Monday’s Dallas City Council meeting displayed more support than disagreement with Councilor Micky Garus’ remarks about Islam posted on Facebook last week.
“That is the beauty about this country, we can say what we want,” Garus said during Monday’s meeting. “We do have freedom of speech. We don’t all have to agree. … I raised awareness about things that are important to a lot of Americans and because I said what I said, we are having a conversation.”
Many who spoke Monday thanked Garus for expressing his opinion and bringing attention to the topic.
“He brings up things that people think about, but don’t say in the open,” said Dallas resident Lynnette Henshaw. “He says them and we all start talking, like we are now, and bringing it up and I think it’s a good thing.”
But not all people at the meeting agreed with what he said and took exception that he posted his views on a Facebook page entitled “Micky Garus Dallas City Councilman.” One resident called for him to resign and another called his opinions “hate speech.”
“When these views are prefaced by your position as a councilman, they are seen as a reflection of values of the entire city,” said Dallas resident Deborah Kelley. “Mr. Garus’ statements were made in a public forum as a councilman. These words do not reflect my values as a citizen of Dallas.”
On Nov. 7, Garus wrote, and subsequently deleted, a Facebook post in response to news that a city in Michigan had elected a majority of Muslims to its city council. Garus wrote that he believed that was the “beginning of a new era in our country” and feared the implementation of Shariah law in the United States.
He also asserted that all Muslims, not just followers of radical Islam, wish to harm those who do not practice the religion. He quoted passages from the Quran to support his views.
“The simple truth is Islam does not allow you to pick and choose, it does not allow for other interpretations, you are either absolutely against these teachings and therefore rebuke Islam, at that point you would be considered an infidel or hypocrite,” he wrote. “If you support Islam, you believe in Jihad and wish to kill all nonbelievers.”
On Nov. 10, in response to attention and criticism, Garus issued a response, saying his views do not represent the city of Dallas or the opinions of his fellow councilors. But he did not back down from what he said.
Ken Kirby, an adjunct assistant professor who teaches all religion classes at Western Oregon University, said Garus’ comments are a mischaracterization of Islam and its followers. He said the passages Garus refers to in his remarks have been taken out of context.
“It is not quite as strict as he thinks it is,” Kirby said. “He has a specific and narrow interpretation of Islam.”
Furthermore, he said sacred texts, such as the Quran and the Bible, offer ideas and rules for living, but that shouldn’t be the only factor in understanding a religion.
“To really understand the religion, you have to see how people practice it,” Kirby said.
He said of the more than 1 billion people worldwide who are Muslims, the vast majority wouldn’t think of committing the kind of violence Garus speaks of.
“He is just being selective and unfair,” Kirby said.
He said one instance is in how Garus uses the term “jihad.” He said jihad, meaning struggle or strive, is not just violent reactions, though it does include that.
Kirby said jihad has three “levels,” the first being the struggle with oneself to overcome selfish motives and tendencies. The second level is learning to control how you speak to others and present yourself in the world. The third level is defending yourself when attacked.
Shariah law, literally meaning “a path,” or way of life, is based mostly on the Quran, but also on the Hadith, or anecdotes about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, Kirby said. He said similar to how Christians look to stories about Jesus, Muslims seek guidance in examples set by Muhammad in the Hadith.
Kirby said he isn’t aware of any municipality in the United States that is implementing Shariah law and believes the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on establishing a state religion would prevent that.
A separate post by Garus, this time containing threatening remarks aimed at transgender children and school administrators who would allow them to use the restroom for the gender they identify as, stirred more controversy.
He defended that statement at Monday’s council meeting.
“I don’t condone violence, but I am a father… and as a protective father, I will fight for my kids and I will fight for my daughter,” he said.
The council took no action against Garus – City Attorney Lane Shetterly made it clear that this circumstance is not grounds for removal per the city charter – but individual councilors issued their own statements.
“I don’t believe in or endorse or agree with Councilor Garus’ comments,” said Councilor Murray Stewart. “As elected officials we have the responsibility to represent all citizens we serve in the community. This means we serve everyone no matter their faith, their race, their religion, their gender. The ones that like us and even the ones who don’t.”
He added that as elected officials, “we should never be reckless with what we say.”
Councilor Kelly Gabliks added she too disagreed with Garus’ comments and said she knows Dallas to be “friendly, inclusive, warm and inviting to all people.”
“I also think it is wrong for anyone to encourage or advocate violence against children or any administrator that might support transgender students,” she said.
Councilor Jackie Lawson said she wouldn’t publically endorse or condemn his views and supported his right to express them.
“Personally, I am more concerned with a person’s actions rather than their words,” she said.
Others at the meeting said Garus’ words have labeled Dallas as an unwelcoming community.
Elliot Yoder, a Dallas resident and transgender teen, echoed those who called for elected officials be held to a higher standard.
“There are people in Dallas who are Muslim and there are people in Dallas that are transgender, like myself,” he said. “Because of Mr. Garus’ views now being public, how can people like me or people that are Muslim, or with any differing gender identity, feel comfortable here?”
Yoder, along with Dallas resident Justen Noll, have proposed working with the city to pen a resolution that makes it clear the city is welcoming of all diversities. They have named the effort “Dallas Welcoming Community Initiative.”
“We want to bring up a peaceful and beneficial resolution that is to enact policy in Dallas that guarantees the welcoming of individuals no matter what they believe or how they identify,” Noll said.
Following the meeting, Garus said he was encouraged by the amount of support he received at the meeting – and acknowledged the rights of those who disagree with him.
“I said something that a lot of people are afraid to talk about and in doing so it rallied the community and gave them courage to come out in support of those topics,” he said. “I think what we witnessed here is a good example of a peaceful democracy where people can come out and exercise their freedom of speech.”
For more on this story click on: Opinion - Guest Commentary by Mayor Brian Dalton.