Published: Nov 14, 2006

County bosses praise Islamic community

By MICHAEL D. BATES

BROOKSVILLE Members of the Islamic community presented a $5,000 check Tuesday to United Way which will be used to purchase food baskets for the needy this Thanksgiving.

"Our faith, the religion of Islam, calls upon us to help the needy," said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who made the trip to Hernando County for the annual presentation at the county commission meeting.

This year's presentation received more attention than usual because of recent remarks by Mary Ann Hogan, wife of former county commissioner Tom Hogan Sr., referring to the Islam religion as hateful and frightening.

Tom Hogan Sr., whose last day on the board was Monday, Nov. 13, agreed with his wife, who originally made the comments in a letter to the editor of Hernando Today.

Several media representatives covered Tuesday's event and asked Bedier, and other Muslim community leaders gathered at the courthouse, for a reaction to the controversy that has now become a statewide issue.

Earlier this month, CAIR called on Gov. Bush to remove Hogan from office. Bush appointed Hogan in August to fill the unexpired term of former commissioner Robert Schenck.

Bush, along with the chairwoman of the state GOP and county commissioners, all condemned Hogan's comments. Hogan never apologized nor did he step down. But the controversy was refueled when Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite in a television interview last week defended the Hogans' right to free speech.

"We wanted to send a clear message to the public that these remarks are unacceptable," Bedier said Tuesday. Bedier said Brown-Waite's recent comments hurt her and reflects badly on her congressional district.

Dr. Adel Eldin, who began the local food drive, said anti-Islamic comments are born out of an ignorance of the religion. He believes that if more people educated themselves, they would not utter such bigoted comments."Our common enemy is ignorance," he said.

Moments after the food basket presentation ended and the chambers cleared, an audience member lashed out at County Commissioner Diane Rowden for condemning Hogan. Rowden later said it's time for people to "stop the nonsense" of bigotry. "We're talking about Americans, our neighbors, our friends," Rowden said of local Muslims. "I think we're blessed to have so many diverse people living in Hernando County."

Outgoing County Commissioner Nancy Robinson urged the county to come together "in peace and harmony.- Don't worry about our diversity, celebrate it," Robinson said.

Kathy Jones, interim executive director of the United Way of Hernando County, said the food baskets will go to needy families and veterans in the community. Publix also helped in the event.

Reporter Michael D. Bates can be contacted at 352-544-5290.