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A boarish lunge

What do State Senator Guy Glodis (D-Worcester) and Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell have in common? Both demonize Muslims. Falwell, of course, infamously referred to the Islamic prophet Mohammed as "a terrorist" last year. And Glodis is generating controversy over his decision to distribute what Muslim activists charge was a racist flier to his 39 Senate colleagues. On June 25, the pol sent out an e-mail with the message, "Thought this might be of interest to you." To it, he attached a leaflet purporting to tell the story of General "Black Jack" Pershing, a US military man stationed in the Philippines. In 1913, so the story goes, Pershing was combating his own brand of terrorism: "Muslim extremists." He executed 49 of them with bullets soaked in pigís blood because Muslims believe, the flier states, "touching a pig ... is to be instantly barred from paradise (and those virgins) and doomed to hell." Then, he buried their bodies in pig entrails ó an act that supposedly deterred terrorism for 42 years. The flier closes with this final sentiment: "Maybe it is time for this segment of history to repeat itself, maybe in Iraq? The question, where do we find another Black Jack Pershing?"

Reaction from Boston-area Muslims has been sharp. When word of the flier leaked, on June 27, Sadaf Kazmi, of the Boston Muslim American Society (MAS), immediately recognized it as a bogus urban legend thatís been circulating on the Internet since December 2001. Certainly, the story is based on the false premise that Muslims wonít go to heaven if they come in contact with pigs. But Kazmi and her colleagues at the MAS Freedom Foundation, in Washington, DC, did some further checking, too. They tracked down Pershingís biographer, Frank Vandiver, a history professor at Texas A&M University, who insists that such a massacre never happened.

"Itís outrageous that an elected official would be circulating something known to be false on our dime and our time," Kazmi says. Rather than set an example of tolerance, she adds, "heís sending out hate mail."

Upon hearing about the flier, Kazmi and MASís Raeed Tayeh phoned the senator himself. Two days later, on July 1, advocates met him at his State House office. There, Kazmi relays, the senator "said he hadnít intended to offend anyone." But that wasnít exactly good enough. Advocates demanded that he issue an apology. Not only had he offended his Muslim constituents, they argued, but he had behaved recklessly by spreading misinformation about the Muslim faith and American history.

To date, Glodis has yet to issue that apology. So on Tuesday, at a press event in front of the State House, Muslim advocates upped the ante. They called on the senator to apologize publicly ó or resign. Explains Tayeh, "If he cannot bring himself to apologize, heís not fit to serve as an elected official." Tayeh and fellow advocates have also demanded that Senate president Robert Travaglini censure his subordinate. And theyíve urged the Senate Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into Glodisís activity.

Glodis, for his part, seems untroubled by the matter. Much to the chagrin of advocates, he described their July 15 event as "great." After all, he says, "Just as I have a right to distribute a news item about a historical event, people have a right to criticize and protest my leadership style." Glodis stresses that he never meant to offend anyone. "If I have," he says, "I regret it." He received the "news item" ó this is what he calls the leaflet because, he says, "It was news to me when I read it" ó from a constituent, and he thought he saw the past event's relevance to todayís war on terrorism. Do we take a passive approach to terrorism? Or do we fight terrorism by the same means?

"Iíve never endorsed such activity, nor have I condoned it," he says. "But I do believe we have a right to debate historical events in our past." When asked to respond to reports that the Pershing massacre is false, he replies, "Iím not convinced that it is." Neither the US State Department, he notes, nor the Defense Department has denied it. He then adds, "I believe in religious tolerance. I believe all people should be protected in our society. But Iím not going to apologize for [exercising] my right to speak freely and to spark an exchange of ideas."

Clearly, itís a response that wonít satisfy local Muslim advocates. Theyíve joined forces with the Tikkun Community of Boston, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Worcester PeaceWorks, among other groups, to push for a public apology ó or else. As Kazmi puts it, "Weíre not about to drop this issue. It isnít over yet."

Issue Date: July 18 - 24, 2003
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