Source: The Scoop Blog – May 27, 2016
By James Ragland
Something remarkable is happening in Irving, a city that, for the better part of a year, clumsily became a tinderbox for anti-Muslim madness.
This is the town where Ahmed Mohamed, the “clock boy,” gained notoriety last fall for bringing a homemade project to school.
Time flies when you’re facing cultural bias and religious persecution.
Over the past 15 months, since Mayor Beth Van Duyne began stoking fears that Muslims were setting up a Shariah law court at an Irving mosque, the Muslim community hasn’t just turned the other cheek — it has rolled up its sleeves and gone to work.
We noted last year that Muslims, who have generally refrained from city politics, had begun organizing get-out-the-vote drives and showing up in record numbers at the polls.
But then, in what seems like a script straight out of Hollywood, an Irving City Council race that hung in the balance this month was settled by a single vote — a provisional ballot cast by a Muslim voter.
Allan Meagher, the Place 2 incumbent who has stood against the town’s foolish, anti-Muslim fervor, found himself with exactly 50 percent of the vote against two challengers.
He needed only one more vote to avoid a June runoff that would have cost the city $70,000 and forced him to dig deeper into his campaign chest.
One man — a disabled Muslim in his 20s who’d gotten his mother to drive him to the polls on Election Day — made the difference. When he got to the polls, he was told that his ID had expired, so he cast what’s called a provisional ballot.
That means the only way he could secure his vote was by returning within days of the election with a valid ID. After hearing on the news that Meagher needed one more vote, the man’s family drove him to the courthouse to put the finishing touch on the race.
“It changed the election,” said Meagher, a UPS manager. “I did hear that the provisional vote was a Muslim voter and I’d like to meet him.”
But here’s the rub: What would rightfully be a gleeful moment for any other voter is one the young man — and Muslim community leaders — are hesitant to gloat about for fear of a backlash.
“It’s definitely a pride for the community,” said Yasir Arafat, a 32-year-old electrical engineer and leader of the Good Citizen Committee that has organized voter registration drives.
“But we care not just about our community, we care about the whole community of Irving,” he said.
More pointedly, what the Muslim community doesn’t want is to be further isolated or stigmatized by flexing its political muscle.
Which is why celebrating this milestone — and the record number of Muslim voters — gets tricky.
Arafat said he’d rather focus attention on the idea that everybody’s vote counts, and that this one particular vote saved taxpayers at least $70,000 — which, he pointed out, could be used to build a road, pay for a police officer or provide medical services.
He said he wants the Muslim community to get more engaged in civic affairs, including voting, to help Irving grow and prosper.
“This is how we can make this city an international city,” he said. “We have so many religions, nationalities and cultures in our city. We can work together and learn to respect each other and our differences. That’s something I believe in.”
For a religious community that has faced so much open hostility — including bomb threats at its mosques and Islamic Center, which houses a school of several hundred children — you can’t ask for a more graceful, democratic response.
“It’s a great testament to the community that it responded the way it did,” said former Irving Mayor Herbert Gears. “We do have a really diverse population out here, and the politicians must learn that they’ve got to treat people respectfully or there will be a consequence at the ballot box.”
Those who keep tabs on voter rolls say the number of Muslim voters has jumped from about 150 two years ago to over 800 in the May 7 election. Of the city’s 92,000 registered voters, about 3,800 — slightly more than 4 percent — identify as Muslims.
But they made up nearly 18 percent of the ballots cast in an election where the turnout was low.
“Seeing this is an amazing improvement for the community,” Arafat said. “Muslims are a democratic people, and we just want to make sure we are engaged in the political process.”
Anthony Bond, a longtime community activist, said he sees what happened in the last election as a sign that “the tide has turned in Irving.”
“There are people here fearful of Muslims because they don’t know any,” he said. “But we’re all in this boat together, and that boat is called America. We’re all going to float or sink together; that’s the whole issue. We can’t let our disagreements sink the boat.”