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In late 2018 and early 2019, a faction within the Tarrant County Republican Party (TCGOP) attempted to force the removal of the organization’s newly appointed vice chair, Dr. Shahid Shafi, because he is Muslim. The controversy drew national and international media attention, and pitted anti-Muslim activists against party luminaries such as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who voiced support for Shafi. Though anti-Muslim rhetoric has become common in the GOP, party leaders now condemned religious bigotry and discrimination as contrary to Republican principles.
While the effort to oust Shafi ultimately failed, the episode offers a case study in the ways religion and politics intersect in a Texas that is steadily growing more ethnically and religiously diverse. Shafi’s appointment to party leadership is itself an indicator of the growth of the Muslim community, both demographically and in political influence, in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area as well as statewide and nationally. Yet the backlash against his appointment illustrates the extreme hostility Muslim Americans continue to face; the effort to oust Shafi played out against the backdrop of Islamophobic rhetoric and actions often perpetrated by members of his own party.
This paper seeks to place the Shafi controversy in a wider context and reflect on its significance for religion and politics in the DFW area and in Texas as a whole. The paper is structured in three sections. The first places the controversy in a broader demographic and political context, while the second recounts chronologically how the controversy unfolded. The third section offers some preliminary and tentative reflections on what we can learn from the Shafi case.
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