Americans are more worried about terrorism now than they were after Sept. 11, and the issue has been a driving point of the 2016 election. The Kansas Republican Party is trying to capitalize on this fear in fliers that insinuate people’s neighbors could be Islamic State fighters.
A flier for State Rep. Joseph Scapa’s campaign depicts a man holding a gun and wearing a keffiyeh, a piece of traditional Arab clothing that is similar to a scarf. “Have you met the new neighbors?” reads the text. “ISIS is not going away anytime soon.” The mailers were delivered to people’s homes across the state.
On the back of the mailer is a photo of a child holding an American flag beside a smiling Scapa. It touts the candidate’s intent to train local law enforcement to fight terrorism if he is re-elected.
The state party confirmed that similar mailers have been sent for other candidates in the state, and defended their imagery in an interview with the Wichita Eagle. “The one issue that got overwhelming positive response and was associated with Republicans was safety,” executive director of the Kansas GOP Clay Barker said to the Wichita Eagle. “And it’s a positive issue for Republicans.”
Aside from the fact a person is more likely to be crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist in the United States, some Kansans have a bigger issue with the fliers: They believe they are putting Muslims at risk.
“When you have a systematic approach by a major political party to use fear-mongering and try to capitalize on small gains through Islamophobia, that’s a huge problem,” Moussa Elbayoumy, the board chair for the Kansas Council of Islamic Relations, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The people we expect to be the leaders of the community is leading people into the wrong direction.”
The fliers sent for other state races depict explosions on the street, with text saying “TERRORISTS TO KANSAS” and pictures of children asking “What is ISIS? Will they hurt me?”
The Kansas GOP fliers come at a time when Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment have been on the rise, and hate crimes against Muslims have reached the level they were at after Sept. 11. Experts believe the xenophobic rhetoric of this election is largely to blame.
Muslims in Kansas are already seeing attempts at this kind of violence. In October, a group of three white men planned an elaborate terrorist attack that involved detonating four explosive-laden cars at the corners of a Garden City, Kansas, apartment complex that houses mostly Somali Muslims. The trio had stockpiled weapons, ammunition and explosives before the the FBI intervened and prevented them from carrying out their plot.
There have been other recent incidents. Earlier this week, a Saudi Arabian student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout was beaten and killed, and police say it may have been a hate crime. In August, a white man shot and killed a Lebanese Christian neighbor in front of his Oklahoma home because he thought he was a “dirty Muslim.”
“I think the real intention behind these is the fact that they don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to any policies or issues — they’ve driven our state into the ground,” Heather Scanlon, communications director for the Kansas Democratic Party, told HuffPost. “Rather than trying to run on issues like education or public safety, they’re using fear tactics and fear-mongering to rally up the voters who are unenthusiastic about their party.”
Members of the Kansas GOP insisted in interviews with local Kansas newspapers that the fliers’ intent is to address terrorism, and not incite fear.
The party did not respond to a HuffPost request for comment for this story.
“I reject the explanation that the GOP and Kansas has tried to provide, saying they’re focusing on ISIS,” Elbayoumy said. “They’re throwing suspicion at every Muslim neighbor. It’s a shameful attempt to use the fear people have of ISIS and extremists, and imply the only people who can secure them is the GOP. This is definitely not true. It is capitalizing on and building fear.”