Involving Muslims in the American political process is a frightening prospect to guys like Joe Kaufman. Judging from a rant he wrote in February, Kaufman, head of the anti-Islam group Americans Against Hate, doesn't want Muslims to vote, work for the federal government, or get fair legal representation.
Kaufman's view aren't shocking -- he's been spouting similar ignorance for years. What's troubling is that U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) may have listened to him.
Until last month, Wasserman Schultz had been scheduled to speak at the annual fundraising banquet of the nonprofit Emerge USA, the group's leaders say. Emerge, based in Margate, aims to empower Muslims, Indian, Pakistani, and Arab-American people through voter registration, political polling, and a leadership training program for young adults. Last year, the speaker at the group's annual banquet was former Sen. Bob Graham.
This year, Kaufman got wind of Wasserman Schultz's speaking engagement and wrote a hysterical rant about Emerge's leaders, saying the organization has a "nefarious agenda of placing Islamists into positions of American power and influence."
Kaufman happens to be a Republican candidate running for Wasserman Schultz's congressional seat. His article mentions that one Emerge coordinator has condemned Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and the founder of the group, Khurrum Wahid, is a respected lawyer who has defended people accused of committing crimes related to terrorism. Plus, the former executive director of Emerge now works for the Department of Defense. A Muslim with a high-level government job -- terrifying, isn't it, Kaufman? (You can read what Wahid and Emerge actually do in this New Times feature article.)
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After Kaufman published his rant, Wasserman Schultz's office suddenly decided she had a scheduling conflict and couldn't speak at the banquet. Wahid speculated that Kaufman scared her off. Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, told the Sunshine State News that the congresswoman never agreed to the gig in the first place (despite this flier advertising it). Beeton has not yet responded to the Pulp's request for comment.
One thing is clear: If Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, is now taking political cues from Joe Kaufman, the anti-Islam politics of South Florida have reached new heights.
"It's just really frustrating to see that lack of leadership," says Laila Abdelaziz, a field coordinator for Emerge.
So much for empowering young leaders.