Prairie Politics

Wichita lawmaker’s comments ill-informed, Islamic leaders say

Kansas lawmaker John Whitmer, right, has run into some criticism from Islamic leaders after he posted a comment about Muslims on Facebook.
Kansas lawmaker John Whitmer, right, has run into some criticism from Islamic leaders after he posted a comment about Muslims on Facebook. File photo

Islamic leaders say a Wichita lawmaker’s Facebook comments about Muslims reflect an ill-informed bias against the faith.

Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, took to Facebook on Sunday night to voice his support for President Trump’s order restricting entry to the U.S. for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the wake of protests about it. The order also temporarily blocked refugees from any country from entering the U.S.

“Need I remind those who don’t care for the recent immigration orders that the benevolent, peace-loving dictatorships of these Muslim countries kill gays and transexuals, deny even the most basic of women’s rights and condone female castration and rape,” Whitmer wrote in the post. “But hey, let’s encourage open borders and accept ANY immigrants from these countries without any vetting anyway, what’s the worst that could happen.” 

Whitmer’s comments drew criticism from Kansas Islamic leaders.

“I don’t know if I should describe it as disgust or not,” said Moussa Elbayoumy, chairman of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But my feeling is Mr. Whitmer’s comments reflect the same crass bias that’s been used in the past to smear Catholics and Mormons … and Jewish people and so forth at other times in our history.

“And I would hope that someone in his position would be instead of – just reading anti-Muslim sites and hate sites and just regurgitating what they say – he should be lamenting what the facts are and realize that a lot of these Muslim people have put their lives in the danger and worn the uniforms of our armed forces and now some of them are being turned away at the border because of this misguided decision,” he added.

Hussam Madi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, called Whitmer’s comments ill-informed and said the focus should be on “what we as Americans need to do over here.”

Whitmer said his concern is that refugees are not properly vetted.

“Until we know for certain, I don’t see a problem with putting the brakes on it and saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, let’s make sure these folks are properly vetted,’ ” Whitmer said. “It’s a burden on the taxpayers to have them here, so if we’re going to have them here, let’s make sure that they’re the folks that we want.”

To enter the United States, refugees must go through screenings by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and go through a multi-agency background check before a final security check at a U.S. airport.

“It’s exactly those kinds of oppressive governments that refugees are fleeing. And Rep. Whitmer should check into the vetting system that currently exists,” Tom Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, a gay-rights organization, said when asked about Whitmer’s Facebook post.

“His comment is these are countries that kill and torture LGBT people. That’s correct. That’s why they’re trying to flee their countries. And I’m all for welcoming them,” Witt said.

Whitmer made his comment about LGBT rights in Muslim countries less than a week after he introduced a bill in the Kansas House that requires transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender at birth and enables the attorney general to take legal action if they don’t.

Whitmer said he thinks the rollout of Trump’s order, which left people stranded at airports, was flawed.

“Now, do I think that his order maybe should have been vetted as well? Probably, yeah. I think maybe he should’ve run that up the flagpole,” Whitmer said. “But, you know, that’s also the nature of you elect someone who’s never been in politics before – sometimes that’s going to happen. I think we’ll work it out. If the courts have to help us, they’ll get it worked out.”

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3