Representatives of several nonprofits called Thursday for a state lawmaker to retract comments he made about a Muslim advocacy organization.
OLYMPIA — It’s been nearly a month since the public hearing where Rep. Larry Haler accused the Muslim civil-liberties organization known as Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of having ties to foreign extremist groups.
CAIR and other advocacy groups haven’t forgotten the episode and gathered Thursday to call on him to publicly retract his remarks.
In a House Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 14, where some GOP lawmakers mulled bringing back subversive-activities laws for Muslim extremist organizations, the Richland Republican accused CAIR of being “basically run by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas,” with a goal “to overthrow the country.”
Haler apologized during a Feb. 2 meeting with the Washington chapter of CAIR but, according to its executive director, would not agree to a public retraction.
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“Rep. Haler has a position of leadership,” said Arsalan Bukhari. “He’s not some person sitting out in a cabin, ranting about things.”
Similar views have been espoused by anti-Muslim bloggers, added Bukhari, but “coming from a state lawmaker, they carry some credibility.”
In a statement Thursday, Haler emphasized he has apologized twice to CAIR for his remarks — during the February meeting and earlier, when he met with constituents for Muslim Lobby Day at the Capitol.
“I respect the views brought forth by the groups in today’s news conference,” said Haler in prepared remarks. “I have acknowledged that my comments may have unintentionally offended some.
“It is unfortunate that these two instances do not satisfy their definition of apology,” Haler added. “However, I’m looking forward to continuing my work for all residents in the 8th Legislative District in making Washington state the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”
A letter calling for Haler to retract his comments was signed by nearly 20 organizations, including the Faith Action Network, immigration group OneAmerica, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Children’s Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
About 25 individuals also signed the letter.
Lawmakers were not invited to sign it, to keep the issue from becoming partisan, according to the advocacy groups.
Michele Thomas, of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, pointed out that neither Democrats nor other Republicans on the committee during the Jan. 14 discussion spoke up about Haler’s remarks.
“We’re talking about Rep. Haler’s comments, but this is an opportunity to hold all lawmakers to a higher standard,” Thomas, director of policy and advocacy for the alliance, said during Thursday’s news conference.
Also at the gathering was Adan Gaal, a Seattle cabdriver of Somali descent.
In early December, Gaal, a Muslim, was attacked in his cab by some passengers who called him a terrorist and threatened to shoot him, according to court documents.
Jesse Alexander Fleming was charged with second-degree assault and malicious harassment in connection with the incident, which broke Gaal’s nose.
Gaal, 34, said he worries that remarks like Haler’s could be read as an invitation to attack Muslims.
“Some people,” said Gaal, “they might take it seriously.”