Leaders failed to address rally’s vitriol

Screw the Quran!”

“Screw Muslims!”

“Go home!”

Such were the putrid shouts aimed at N. Ruby Zigrino, a U.S. Muslim, during her speech at the “Support Our Troops” rally held at the State Capitol on Saturday. In fact, the catcalls got so bad rally organizer Joe Repya had to step in to calm the crowd of 17,000 and asked all present to show respect for Zigrino.

Indignant chants of “USA!” and hissing interrupted Zigrino’s speech after she called for a new Marshall Plan for Iraq. For some unknown reason, some people in the crowd decided to treat Zigrino – who is of Bangladeshi descent and a war supporter – as Saddam Hussein’s long lost daughter.

Meanwhile, some of Minnesota’s most powerful politicians – Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Norm Coleman and U.S. Reps. Gil Gutknecht, Jim Ramstad and John Kline – waited for their turns to speak, silently observing this behavior. Once given their turns to speak, they remained silent on the subject.

Rally organizer Joe Repya, creator of the “Liberate Iraq” signs that pepper Twin Cities yards, said nothing was wrong with Zigrino’s speech or her calls for a humanitarian commitment in Iraq. Repya should be applauded for stepping in during Zigrino’s speech and letting her view be heard. Repya’s actions reflect the views of the majority who attend the rally. Most apples were not tainted by the worms.

Distinctions must be made: Terrorists are about as representative of the Muslim community as Jeffrey Dahmer is of white American men. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Supporting troops does not necessarily mean supporting the war, just as support for the war is not necessarily support for troops.

Elected officials did not make any of those distinctions at the rally. And by declining to address the shouts directed at Zigrino, they failed as leaders last Saturday. Racist and derogatory remarks aimed at religious groups and singling out minority groups are wrong and un-American. The elected officials should have made that clear.