Muslim reporter describes being ridiculed at the Texas GOP convention

Republican chairman: 'Would the state party ever condone that? Absolutely not.'

A delegate wears a decorated hat during the Texas GOP convention. (Getty, Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
A delegate wears a decorated hat during the Texas GOP convention. (Getty, Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

The Texas Republican Party's annual convention ended a week ago, but it’s still managing to make headlines.

The GOP gathering first attracted national attention by fast-tracking a new platform that includes endorsing “reparative therapy” for gays. Some of the more moderate Republicans in attendance had hoped to address the matter, but the anti-gay topic was never allowed to come up for debate.

Now, a reporter who was covering the convention says she was targeted and taunted because of her Muslim headdress.

Heba Said, a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the opinion editor of the school paper, The Shorthorn. The 22-year-old said she applied for media credentials and attended the convention hoping to share with her readers what it was like to sit in on panel discussions with delegates.

Instead, Said writes, “I discovered a cult-like hatred that is simply disgusting.” From her report:

As I walked through the halls, people stopped in their tracks and frowned and shook their heads at me. Panelists threw the word “Islamist” around as if it were perfectly OK, and one man even asked if I felt alone at a meeting. I was referred to as “you people” and “y’all Muslims” more times than I can count. The worst part was the way delegates looked at me, as if I were something to fear when I approached them.

“I did not observe any of this," said Steve Munisteri, Texas GOP chairman. “I never heard a single anti-Muslim statement, and I never saw any anti-Muslim activity.”

Munisteri said to Yahoo News in an interview that this year's meeting drew 10,000 participants, and that everyone was expected to "treat their fellow delegates and guests with respect and civility.”

“Is it possible that some knucklehead said something that was mean-spirited to somebody? Sure,” he said. “Would the state party ever condone that? Absolutely not.”

Heba Said on the University of Texas at Arlington campus. (The Shorthorn/Adrian Gandara)
Heba Said on the University of Texas at Arlington campus. (The Shorthorn/Adrian Gandara)

Tea party star Ted Cruz made an appearance and snapped pictures with supporters. Said wanted to capture a few photos of the U.S. senator from Texas as well, but instead she had to worry about being profiled by police.

I found five police officers behind me, hands on holsters watching me intently. Armed with a press badge and an iPhone, I turned to them held up my media credentials and asked if I could help them with something, as my heart tried to escape my chest. They did not respond but broke up into groups of two and continued watching me. If I was the biggest threat at that convention, then I must be seriously underestimating myself.

Said will graduate next year with a degree in political science and a minor in Arabic. She intends on going to either law school or graduate school, and has aspirations to become a political correspondent.

“Because this happened, it means that there’s not enough diversity out there,” Said told Yahoo News. “It’s encouraged me.”

During a session on ways the GOP can bolster efforts to reach religious minority groups, Said finally spoke up and asked about their interest in Muslim voters.

After discussing with one candidate whether there were Muslim outreach plans, I almost didn’t feel like I was allowed to be American, as if what he said stripped me from my American identity. He asked me where I was from. When I responded, “Texas,” he asked me where I was really from, as if there were no way it could possibly be from Texas.

“On my mom’s side I’m thirteenth generation American,” she told Yahoo News.

The theme for this year’s convention was “Fight to Keep Texas Red.” Based on their reported actions, you have to wonder if a few of the Republicans are now red-faced to boot.

Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).