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Class is in session, despite Islamic protest

By GARY ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

PORT CHARLOTTE — In response to a charge that a planned voter education forum could feed into prejudice against Muslims, Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis is not backing down from hosting a class on immigration and refugee law.

Tonight’s class on “The History of ISIS, al Qaida, and Radical Islam,” is part of a 10-week course he created entitled “Politics and Government: Strange Bedfellows,” aimed at informing the public on a range of topics, Stamoulis said.

But in a statement released Wednesday, the Florida chapter of theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,called on the elected official to cancel an “apparently Islamophobic presentation.”

“It is entirely inappropriate for an official, whose job it is to ensure fair and nonpartisan elections, to engage in such polarizing behavior that has nothing to do with the voting process,” said CAIR-Florida Communications Director Wilfredo A. Ruiz.

Despite the group’s objection, and the possibilityof protests at the freeevent open to the public, Stamoulis doubled down on holding the class.

“Demonstrations are part of the American fabric. They’re entitled to their opinion,” he said. “They, of course, have a viewpoint, but I’m not going to allow it to stop the presentation.”

Stamoulis said the content of his talk is to emphasize that a small radical group of Muslims should not define the U.S. refugee program. America has a long history of reaching out to refugees, who face persecution in their host countries, he said.

While the U.S. should remain vigilant to not allow terrorists into the country, the vast majority of refugees, regardless of their religious beliefs, arepeaceful people looking for a better life for their families, he said.

The terrorism threat is a critical issue today, and one that must be addressed with facts, not fear or fiction, he said. And people want to learn more on the subject.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted on June 3, 2016, found that registered voters most wanted to hear about terrorism in a presidential debate, followed by the economy.

“It’s obviously an issue that’s important to voters,” he said.

This is the second year Stamoulis has presented the course, saying it was requested by a number of people, including poll workers. He recently sent out an email to pollworkers reminding them of the upcoming session.

But Islamic officials are worried that the public forum will only inflame an already controversial topic.

CAIR has criticized what it termed the Trump administration’s “deafening silence” on a growing number of anti-Muslim incidents, part of a spike in anti-Muslim incidents nationwide that began during the recent presidential campaign and accelerated following the November election.

Since the beginning of the year, CAIR has called for investigations of possible bias motives for 35 incidents targeting mosques in Florida, Colorado, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, New Jersey, New York,Maryland, Texas and a number of other states.

By comparison, in the January-March period in 2016, CAIR recorded 19 such incidents.

In a soon-to-bepublished report, CAIR will detail a more than 50 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2016 over 2015. That figure is accompanied by a more than 40 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same period, according to CAIR.

The class on immigration and refugee law will be presented from 7-9 p.m. tonight, in the Cultural Center Theater, 2280 Aaron St., Port Charlotte. Admission is free.

Email: groberts@sun-herald.com

STAMOULIS

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