O’Reilly takes myth-busting campaign to cable news outlet

By J. Patrick Pepper
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. was in the national spotlight again last week firing back at the notion that Shariah, or Islamic holy law, has supplanted the U.S. Constitution in this city of more than 30,000 Arab residents.

“There’s no Shariah law in Dearborn, Mich. … It isn’t even talked about in Dearborn,” O’Reilly said in an interview Monday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “This is an invention of some people who have, as their goal, they believe that Muslim faith is a false faith, it’s dishonest. And they really believe at the heart of it … that if Muslims won’t convert, they should be removed from America.”

O’Reilly was responding to GOP U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada, who spoke on the issue at a Tea Party rally in her home state in late September. She was asked by one of the attendees to share her thoughts on Muslims “wanting to take over the United States” and “taking over a city in Michigan.”

She responded: “We’re talking about a militant terrorist situation, which I believe isn’t a widespread thing, but it is enough that we need to address, and we have been addressing it,” according to an audio recording of the event obtained by a local newspaper and widely publicized on Oct. 8 in a Washington Post story.

“My thoughts are these,” Angle said. “First of all, Dearborn, Mich., and Frankford, Texas, are on American soil and under constitutional law. Not Shariah law. And I don’t know how that happened in the United States.

“It seems to me there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a foreign system of law to even take hold in any municipality or government situation in our United States.”

The sensational implications — and the perplexing fact that Frankford hasn’t been a municipal jurisdiction since Dallas annexed it in 1975 — led to a flurry of media coverage questioning Angle’s assertion, but little public comment by the candidate herself.

Angle’s campaign staff did not respond to a request for an interview for this story, and requests from several other news organizations reportedly have met with similar silence. But on a radio interview last week with conservative host Lars Larson, Angle was given the opportunity to clarify her statement. After asking her to explain “what you really said,” Larson asked, “Now, did you say though that Shariah law is in place in Dearborn?”

Angle said, “I had read that in one place, that they have started using some Shariah there. That’s what I read.”

Her comments appeared to allude to the controversial arrests of four evangelists earlier this year at the Arab International Festival on Warren. The group was accused of breaching the peace for gathering a large group of young Arab men to debate their faiths, but a jury later acquitted them on the charges. The case was widely publicized, largely because of a series of videos from the incident posted on YouTube by the group.

Critics have characterized the arrests as police persecuting Christians in deference to Shariah, which prohibits Muslims from converting to other religions. City officials have maintained the group was only there to seek confrontation, in order to film it and post it online.

O’Reilly, who sent Angle a letter inviting her to the city, said in an interview that comments like hers are indicative of the challenges to portraying Dearborn’s image in a sound bite-driven media format. He said that for people who have limited knowledge of the city, its sizable Middle Eastern population is often the only thing they know.

The mayor explained that even though Arabs are only about a third of the city’s roughly 100,000 residents, and not all of that percentage are Muslim, the concentration of Middle Easterners here is the highest per capita in the country, and thus stands out. And the focus seems to be intensified lately as a rising suspicion of American Muslims in conservative circles has become one of their focal points in the upcoming midterm elections.

But even when the elections are over and the controversy over the missionary case is a memory, O’Reilly said the struggle to accurately portray the city’s image wouldn’t end.

“This is something that (the city) will continue to face, and if this keeps people who would want to come here, or would want to visit here, or start a business here, from coming, it’s a problem.” O’Reilly said. “I’m not trying to downplay the role Muslims play in our community. My goal is to properly put things in context so people know what Dearborn is all about. We’re just a regular American town.”