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The Contrarian Returns

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I’ve been absent from the blog this week while I finished a feature story for the print magazine. (The story—the fourth in my series on faulty arson cases—will be out next week. It explores the causes of wrongful arson convictions and what can be done to fix the problem.)

I’ve plugged back into Texas politics to find that half the state is apparently running for governor (doesn’t anyone want to run for school board anymore?).

The latest entrant—Houston millionaire Farouk Shami—plans to join the race today. I’m excited about Shami’s campaign; it’ll give me the chance to frequently employ the phrase “hair products magnate.”

But The Houston Chronicle writes today that Shami’s campaign might be dead on arrival. Political pundits are wondering if a Muslim American can successfully run for office folliowing the Fort Hood shooting. And it seems a right-wing talk show host believes Shami is some kind of pinko-commie, fascist, jihadist who shouldn’t run for public office because he’s shown empathy for Palestinians. The Chronicle story is truly dispiriting:

But it could be a tough sell for the naturalized U.S. citizen from the West Bank in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings and anti-Muslim rhetoric against the accused gunman. Even before the Fort Hood incident, Shami had come under fire from a national conservative commentator who claimed his support for Palestinian rights put him in opposition to Israel….

While Shami has a history of philanthropy in the United States and helping victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, he also has a history of actively pushing for Palestinian rights. He built a girls school and a company factory for Palestinians. In a 2007 article he wrote for the Houston Chronicle, Shami complained that Israeli policies were discriminating against Palestinians and holding back development in their lands.

“The absence of economic and social freedom for Palestinians is in no one’s long-term interest not Palestinians, nor Israelis, and certainly not Americans,” Shami wrote.

Such sentiments brought him under fire from conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel, who suggested he is anti-Israel in a piece titled “Jihad and hair care: Meet Texas Dems’ Palestinian Muslim candidate for governor.” Conservative talk show hosts have been railing against Muslims because a Palestinian-American is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood.

And here I thought his main political liability was running for governor of Texas as a Democrat.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.