Page 22


AFTERWORD Direct from Vienna BY LOUIS DUBOSE Austin THREE WEEKS after a capitol press conference at which Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance announced “a basic and fundamental change in personal life,” sources close to the Republican Commissioner appointed to replace Mack Wallace insist that he has no regrets about converting to Islam and adopting a traditional Arab way of life. “It came as a surprise to all of us,” a Hance aide said, insisting that staff and political advisers were called together for a meeting only two hours before Hance’s press conference in the Speaker’s Committee Room where Hance explained that his decision was personal and had nothing to do with cultivating the favor of Islamic OPEC ministers. He said that some would publicly attack him for what would be described as political opportunism, but that he had faced similar criticism in the past when he switched political parties. Hance becomes the first Moslem to ever serve on the three-member commission. Texas Democrats, many still bitter about Hance’s defection to the Republican Party in 1984, seemed to be caught off guard by the Railroad Commissioner’s surprise move and most had little to say about it. Though Rep. Clint Hackney, D-Houston, Hance’s opponent for the commission seat, was critical of Hance’s involvement with OPEC, he made no critical comment about the former Lubbock Congressman’s adopting an alternative lifestyle. “It’s a personal religious decision and those things are a private matter of conscience,” Hackney said. However, as Chairman of the House Energy Committee, Hackney did meet with Gov. Bill Clements to discuss Hance’s efforts on behalf of Texas at an OPEC meeting held in Vienna in late April. Other Democrats, who would not speak for the record, insisted that the move was an attempt to build closer ties with Islamic and other Third World leadersof the oil cartel, then use the position to try to increase and stabilize oil prices. “If Hance can achieve an increase in the price of oil to, say, $20 a barrel, it could help turn the Texas economy around, win him a seat on the Railroad Commission in November, and put him in a strong position to replace Clements in 1990,” one Democratic Party activist said. “It is pure political opportunism but the press and other elected GAIL WOODS officials are not subjecting him to the same public scrutiny as Hackney simply because he is Moslem. If he were a Christian, he would be held to a different standard.” Republicans have been generally supportive of the Hance conversion. “It is a rare act of personal moral courage that is not without some risk,” Republican political consultant Karl Rove said. According to Rove, the conversion could alienate urban Jewish voters whose traditional ties to the Democratic party are strained by the Jackson candidacy. But it could improve Hance’s standing among some black voters. \(Hance is believed to have alienated most Hispanics with negative ads about undocumented workers during the Democratic senatorial on how Hance plays it,” Rove said. “You have to remember that Jews and Arabs are both Semitic peoples and have been living side by side for years.” He also cited the proscription against eating pork and a “nonSunday Sabbath” as characteristics shared by both religions. Rove suggested that Hance’s choice of the Sunni over the Shia sect is something of a political advantage “or at least less disadvantageous.” The separate sects are a result of a dispute over the caliphate, or leadership of Islam, that occurred shortly after the death of Muhammad in 632. Sunni Moslems are the larger of the two groups today and are considered to be the most moderate. Even Hance’s choice of a new name, Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, is considered by many to be politically advantageous. In choosing the name of the Prophet’s biographer, considered by most to be neutral in the ShiaSunni division, Hance avoids alienating Islamic-Americans of either sect. Other Republicans, including Texas Senator Phil Gramm, praised Hance for his moral conviction. “Kent Hance is a man who keeps his own counsel,” Gramm said. “When he decided that he didn’t fit in the Democratic party, he didn’t hesitate to change. Now that he feels that he no longer belongs in the Western and Christian world, he has made another change.” Gramm added that he did not consider Hance’s involvement in OPEC and his conversion to Islam as “even remotely political.” “Kent Hance,” the Senator said, “is not the type of man who puts personal political gain before the public interest.” Gerald Feld, a University of Indiana professor of clinical psychology, said that though Hance’s metamorphosis is unusual he would hesitate to describe it as abnormal. “This affinity for Islam, however,” Feld said, “is far more common among the British who are known for their love of Arabia and things Arabic. Feld continued: “Something similar occurs with North American liberals who so frequently adopt the language and dress and political philosophies of the Central American comandantes that they so admire. “Study his [Hance’s] speeches during his final year in Congress,” Feld said. “You’ll probably find that they are full of the rhetorical flourishes common to the Arabic language. And quotes from Kahlil Gibran.” Feld also mentioned an exaggerated use of the subjunctive tense and suggested that “non-clinical” changes in personality do not occur overnight. The most widely known 22 MAY 20, 1988