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The Missouri legislature ended its session on Friday to the usual fanfare of papers being tossed into the air. It’s fitting, because at least one member of the state House of Representatives has his political future blowing in the wind.
Two weeks ago, it was revealed that State Rep. Rick Stream, from Kirkwood, had sent an email featuring a quote from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In part, the quote reads, “Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.” Then Stream chimes in with his own thought. "Churchill saw it coming..." he writes. The speech that Stream quotes from was presented in 1899. Here it is in its entirety.
As a resident of Kirkwood and a fellow member of a Kirkwood School District committee with Stream, I was appalled by his statement. I honestly consider him a friend to me and my mother, honored Kirkwoodian Erma Reid. She had a yard sign up for him, for goodness' sake.
Quite frankly, I thought there would be much more protest following the first report by the Riverfront Times and follow-ups from Kirkwood Patch and FOX 2. Democrat Deb Lavender, who has failed twice in attempts to unseat Stream, said “shameful is a good word for his comments.” Last November, she lost by less than 300 votes (11,438 to 11,172).
The Webster-Kirkwood Times did not report on the email or Stream’s response to criticism, nor were there any letters published in reaction—either in agreement or disagreement. “Are people so apathetic that they don’t care how prejudiced their elected officials are?" Lavender asks.
Stream sent this explanation to several media outlets: "The email I sent to my colleagues on April 30 contained no content written by me, but was instead one of many I forward to my colleagues each night. The message contained commentary from one of our world's most well-known and well-respected political figures, Winston Churchill. My forwarding of the email does not in any way represent an endorsement of its content. Instead, it was simply a message that was passed along to me that I found interesting given the historic and important nature of the man who authored it, and the relevance of the message in relation to current day discussions."
Long before this incident, there was at least one Kirkwood resident who had appealed to Stream and the legislature to begin dialogue with Muslims and to try to come to an understanding of what Islam truly represents. Faizan Syed serves as executive director of CAIR-St. Louis, which says its mission is to “enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”
Syed says he was “personally hurt” by Stream’s email and comment, because it “specifically targeted me and my faith.”
“I have lived in Kirkwood for most of my life, since coming to the United States," Syed says. "Never have I or my family felt unwelcome in the city of Kirkwood, until I read this email. Sadly, I've been to the State Capitol three times for Muslim Day, and all three times, Rep. Stream has not met with me or my family to discuss issues that are concerning to us. We were able to meet with his secretary but not with him directly." Syed notes that Stream and others have a standing dinner invitation with the Missouri Muslim community at one of its Islamic Community Centers.
He's not impressed with Stream’s explanation of his email, calling for “nothing less than an apology from Rep. Stream, along with a concentrated effort by House and Senate leadership to curb this type of anti-Islam thinking at the State Capitol.”
“There is a growing problem of Islamophobia at the Missouri State Capitol," Syed adds. "It is very vital for the success of our state that this problem be addressed by the leadership in both the House and the Senate."
Just days after Steam’s comments became public, the House gave final approval to legislation that targets the use of Sharia and other foreign laws in the United States. Stream was one of the majority votes.
Stream now faces a term limit on his House seat. While a run for state Senate could be in his future, his Churchill email could prove costly in his diverse district.
Commentary by Alvin Reid