Calling Out Islamophobia in Florida's 17th Congressional District

The Sun quickly issued a correction of its reporter's claims.
The Sun quickly issued a correction of its reporter's claims.

Indivisible Groups Put a Spotlight on Lecture Entitled the "History of Radical Islam" by Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis

7/11/2018

On March 31, 2017, an Englewood Indivisible member alerted our group's leaders to advertising for Supervisor
Stamoulis's speech on "The History of Radical Islam," scheduled for April 6th at the Charlotte County
Cultural Center. Working with our neighboring Indivisible groups we got busy.
 
The advertisement showed no sponsoring organization, so we were curious. We alerted reporters, hoping
their reporting on the upcoming lecture would unearth some more information. The main newspaper,
the Charlotte Sun  and NBC-TV2 both raised questions about the propriety of an elected official speaking
on the topic.
County staff as ushers working for comp time
When six of us arrived to monitor the speech, we met concerned members of the local Muslim community who were taking seats to observe the lecture. Local activists, who learned of the event from the news reports, were there with signs welcoming Muslims and denouncing Islamophobia.
 
The center section of the large theater was reserved for Mr. Stamoulis's paid staff and paid poll workers.
 
The  Charlotte Sun reported on April 11th that advertising for the lecture was paid for with public funds. And the Sun learned from Mr. Stamoulis that he gave comp time to the staffers who ushered the event.
 
Supervisor Stamoulis's powerpoint lecture, titled in the first slide as “The History of ISIS, al-Qaida and Radical Islam," bore little resemblance to the explanation he gave the Charlotte Sun that a small number of radical Islamists should not affect the U.S. refugee program.
 
Stamoulis questioned Muslims' recognition of U.S. Constitution
Stamoulis twice questioned the patriotism of Muslim Americans while showing a slide of a head-scarf-wearing woman holding the U.S. flag.
 
He also expressed doubt that Muslims in the U.S. “can acknowledge the supremacy of civil law over Sharia
law.” At that, Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Florida office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, stood up and said “I’m a civil rights lawyer and an imam and a Muslim and I don’t know any Muslims who disagree that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land, God bless
you.”
 
Stamoulis also showed some weak scholarship, stating that Islam was spread by military force while Christianity
was spread mainly by missionaries. Cries of "No" arose from the audience to correct him. He also stated that animists worshipped animals.

Apparently responding to the early news reports, Stamoulis justified his subject choice with a series of slides from last summer showing voter interest in terrorism; his lecture lasted for over two hours.

News story error provides additional learning 

The Ft. Myers NPR station, WGCU, provided an excellent report  of the evening, including a recording of the exchange between Stamoulis
and Shibly. But the reporter for the Sun newspapers reported in a piece that appeared September 8th in Port Charlotte and Englewood that "an audience member, who described himself as an Imam, challenged
Stamoulis by declaring that Sharia law supersedes civil law." The Sun reporter also stated that there were no protesters present.

Englewood Indivisible leaders alerted the Sun's editors to the error and sent in a request for correction. Within hours, Sun papers Executive Editor Jim Gouvellis had placed a correction on the papers' front page and written an accompanying editorial strongly critical of Stamoulis' lecture. "Should the supervisor of elections be telling you what he thinks about a certain religion?" wrote Gouvellis.
Ripples continue spreading

Soon after Stamoulis's lecture, Englewood Indivisible learned that a complaint about it was filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

On April 14th, the Charlotte Sun ran an opinion article by radio host and author Samar Jarrah, who wrote: "Several Muslims and I sat listening while we were 'informed' about Islam and what our faith entailed.

"Of course, there were the usual images of deserts and camels. A portrait of a man came on the screen and we were told that this is Muhammad, though generally Muslims do not have pictorial depictions of God, angels or prophets. And this person was also depicted as a warrior on a horse. Incidentally, not once was the Prophet accorded the respect of the title."