Politics & Government

Why Kansas Muslims are worried about Pompeo becoming secretary of state

CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. AP

Mike Pompeo’s selection as U.S. secretary of state promotes a “destructive” line of thinking against Muslims, said Moussa Elbayoumy, chairman of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Elbayoumy and other Kansas Muslims have expressed concern about Pompeo’s past comments on Islam as he is named to the country’s top diplomatic post. President Donald Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and named Pompeo, the current CIA director, as his replacement. The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate must still confirm the appointment.

In 2015, Pompeo told Wichita’s Summit Church, “We are engaged in a struggle against radical Islam, the kind of struggle this country has not faced since its great wars.”

The depiction of western civilization being opposed to Islam is a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” Elbayoumy said, something that raises questions about U.S. relationships with Muslim majority nations.

“How would you expect the people you’re accusing of being your civilization’s enemies, how would you expect them to react?” Elbayoumy asked. “That does not promote understanding, that does not promote dialogue, that does not promote a quest for peace.”

As secretary of state, Pompeo will be responsible for advising the president on foreign policy, conducting international negotiations and overseeing immigration. That includes administering Trump’s travel ban that some have referred to as a “Muslim ban.”

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Pompeo’s comments about Muslims date back to his time in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2013, he gave a speech on the House floor about the Boston Marathon bombings.

“When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith, and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of that faith,” he said. “Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.”

He made these statements after at least six American Islamic organizations had publicly condemned the attacks.

Elbayoumy said that speech spoke “to the vilification and the attempt to paint a whole community as the outsiders or the others. … You can’t paint 1.4 billion people worldwide with the actions of a handful of people.”

At times, Pompeo has warned about conflating Islam with extremism.

“There are many Muslims of good will and despise this extremism as much as anyone of any other faith,” Pompeo said in a speech to Wichita’s Republican Pachyderm Club in 2015.

Ahsan Latif, president of the Crescent Peace Society, referenced Pompeo’s ties to ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy. ACT for America organized a recent “March against Sharia,” while Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, has contended that Islam is not a religion and that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.

“I view him (Pompeo) suspiciously,” Latif said. “He doesn’t see a place for me in American society just based on the things he said and the people he’s associated with.”

The Crescent Peace Society is a Kansas City-area organization that promotes understanding between Muslims and people of other faiths.

At the same time, Latif said, he would wait to see if Pompeo moderates his views as secretary of state.

“Muslims, generally, are like everyone else in Kansas,” he said. “We want to go to work like everyone else, worship God like everyone else, and we hope Bill Self gets the Jayhawks past the Elite 8 this year. At the very least I hope Mike Pompeo can agree with Muslims in Kansas on that.”

In 2016, Pompeo played a role in urging the Islamic Society of Wichita to cancel the appearance of Sheik Monzer Talib, a motivational speaker who Pompeo accused of having ties to Hamas. Supporters of the event said Taleb’s message was only to be one of peace.

In his statement, Pompeo referenced the event falling on the Christian Good Friday and said that if the society did not cancel the event, “They will be responsible for the damage among religious faiths that is sure to follow.” He also condemned the Islamic Society of Wichita for not speaking publicly about terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium.

The event was canceled after Wichita police informed the mosque that armed people planned to protest.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @kathsburgess.

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