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State rep. from Snoqualmie under fire for ‘bigoted’ and ‘Islamaphobic’ comments

State Representative Jay Rodne is being called out by the Democratic party, and even his Snoqualmie neighbor and constituent over the representative's recent commentary on Muslims. (houserepublicans.wa.gov)

A Washington state representative is being accused of spreading Islamaphobia. He has fired back, claiming to have been taken out of context. One of his constituents is now reaching out to start a new dialogue with his elected official.

“I was shocked,” Ather Haleem said, after reading online comments about Muslims made by State Representative Jay Rodne. “I believe in basic rights of all Americans, including American Muslims, to have freedom of religion.”

Related: Rep. Adam Smith says we need Muslim allies if we want to defeat ISIS

Haleem has lived in Snoqualmie for 11 years with his wife, Maliha, their 10-year-old son, and 4-year-old daughter. It is the same town that Rodne lives in. Haleem and his wife immigrated from Pakistan to work at a local, major tech company. He is a software engineer and his wife is in program management.

“We have two kids and when we were looking around for houses, we thought it was exactly the kind of place that is great for raising kids,” Haleem said. “We love hiking, and we go out into the mountains, and the mountains are a stone’s throw away from there.”

Online controversy

Since news of his online comments broke, Rodne has attempted to clarify his statements, and has said his comments are being taken out of context. While standing behind what he wrote, he argues that he was talking about extremists only, not all Muslims.

Rodne represents the state’s 5th Legislative District, which includes Snoqualmie where he and the Haleem family both live. He received criticism after recently posting to his personal Facebook page and commenting about events in Paris, and the issue of Syrian refugees that could come to the United States. It has led to fact checking with The Seattle Times, and a back-and-forth online dialogue over how he speaks about Muslims. It even prompted Washington Democrats to ask Republicans to strip Rodne of his position on a house committee over what Democrats call “bigoted and Islamophobic comments.”

“When anti-Muslim hate and conspiracy theories are repeated by elected leaders, they create an atmosphere that fosters bullying, discrimination and often violent hate crimes against American Muslims, like me,” Haleem said.

Related: FBI investigates threats of violence against Seattle mosques

Specifically, Rodne said on Facebook that:

Obama wants to import 1.5 million muslims into the U.S. This is absolute madness! Islam is incompatible with western civilization! How anyone people need to die? In the interim, Amicans, arm yourselves!!!!!

When people commented back on Facebook, arguing against his perspective, Rodne maintained his position. One woman, a former Snohomish mayor and council member, called out Rodne for vilifying Muslims, and recommended he go to a mosque to discuss his concerns. Rodne responded by saying the woman was living in “la-la land.”

Rodne further commented:

Are you freaking kidding me? How long are you going to be an apologist for brutal barbarians? Islam is bariarian medievalism! Wake the f… up!

As well as:

The problem is the ideology. At its core, Islam is a medieval ideology that has not reconciled with modernity like Judaism and Christianity did centuries ago. Islam commands subservience or you die. It is that simple. ISIS is simply carrying out the tenets of their faith : infidels either need to be converted or killed. Leftist progressives think they can ‘wish’ this grim reality away but they can’t.

A new dialogue

Haleem, one of Rodne’s constituents, has called the state representative’s office with the hope of starting a new dialogue. He released a statement through CAIR, a nonprofit with the aim to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding,” according to its website.

“I hope [Rodne] can meet American-Muslim families from our district to learn about our lives, contributions, hopes and dreams,” Haleem said.

Haleem wants Rodne to meet American-Muslims like himself, an avid trail hiker and volunteer with the Washington Trail Association. Or his son, who is into ski racing. And he wants others to know their Muslims neighbors as well.

“I want to tell them that American-Muslims like me give back to our communities,” Haleem said. “I have friends that volunteer at food banks and other local organizations. And that’s the kind of Muslims I want people to know about.”

“I believe American-Muslims participate actively in mainstream society, as a co-worker, citizen, neighbor,” he said. “We share the same American values and freedoms that we all cherish. And over 10,000 American Muslims serve in our armed forces, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

Rodne responds

Rodne had previously spoke with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson about his concern over accepting Syrian refugees in Washington. On Nov. 20, he returned to the radio show to explain his online commentary.

Rodne said that his 26 years serving in the Marines, and his current service in the Marine Reserves, has given him an informed perspective on threats to the United States.

“I’ve seen the ravages and savagery of war, particularly in the Middle East…I come to this issue with a unique perspective, and that has informed my view on a lot of these issues,” Rodne said.

He said that his Facebook comments were written amid the height of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.

“My comments on Facebook were within hours of the Paris bombings and it was a tough day for a lot of people; for me given that fact that our civilization was, again, subject to a horrific attack,” Rodne said, further noting that his comments were aimed at extremists, not all Muslims around the world.

“The majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims are peaceful and want nothing more than to live in peace. And if they are here in America, they want nothing more than to live and enjoy our freedoms,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of Islam, but that equates to a very large number &#8212 tens of millions no doubt &#8212 who subscribe to a very radical, in my view, medieval interpretation of Islam that has not reconciled with modernity.”

The state representative said that his Facebook comments have been taken out of context.

“You got to put it in the context of Friday, you got to put it in the context of ISIS,” Rodne said. “I may have not have been as accurate as I should have been. There are multiple variants of Islam. I’ve got really good friends from Turkey that are Muslims. Turkey is a secular society. That is an example of a society that has reconciled Muslim faith with modernity…You can’t say that my comments were directed in totality. I was commenting on the ISIS interpretation, the al Qaeda interpretation.”

Overall, Rodne said he is glad that a conversation has been started about the issue of Syrian refugees.

“We don’t have a way to differentiate between friend or foe when it comes to Syrian migrants,” he said.
“I was emotional about it. We need to wake up to the security threat that we are facing. Every state has ongoing active ISIS investigations by the FBI.”

Democratic response

Despite his explanations through news outlets, Rodne’s Democratic colleagues across the aisle have asked Republicans to strip him from his position on the House Judiciary Committee.

“Jay Rodne’s bigoted and Islamophobic comments are just unacceptable, and someone who holds these hateful views should not hold a crucial position of power in Olympia” said Jamal Raad, Washington State Democrats Communications Director.”

Rodne also responded to the Democratic statement on the Dori Monson show.

“I put my life on the line to protect the freedoms we hold dear in this country, one of those is the First Amendment. The fact that Washington state Democrats would want to punish me for exercising my First Amendment rights underscores how out of touch they are,” Rodne said. “I put my life on the line for moderate Muslims in Iraq in 2003, and yet not one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle has ever served their country in harm’s way.”

“Not one of my Democratic colleagues, not one member from that caucus has ever served their country in uniform; the current core of Democrats in the House,” he said. “Not one House Democrat currently serving has served their country in uniform, much less in combat like I have.”

MyNorthwest quoted social media post as they were originally published and did not correct any spelling or grammatical errors.

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