Dwyer e-mail on Islam alarms his colleagues

Delegate who shared nephew's essay criticized

April 02, 2004|By Michael Dresser and Kimberly A. C. Wilson | Michael Dresser and Kimberly A. C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County legislator stirred controversy in Annapolis yesterday by e-mailing to colleagues an essay contending that Islam is a "militaristic and violent" religion.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., one of the most conservative Republicans in the General Assembly, apparently used his state-provided computer to distribute the treatise titled "Is Islam Really Peaceful?" Purportedly written by his eighth-grade nephew, it cites Islamic scripture to make a case that the religion is not peaceful.

Among other things, it states that "the Koran gives clear warrant for killing those who will not comply with Islam; therefore Muslims must kill those who will not allow Islam."

Seyed Rizwan Mowlana, who runs the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's leading Muslim civil rights organization, said Dwyer's e-mail amounted to hate-mongering.

"This is very, very alarming," said Mowlana. "Sending this out as an elected official, it becomes conduct unbecoming. He used the legislative e-mails, my taxpayer money, to send his hate out."

Dwyer told colleagues he was distributing the "clarification" at the request of his nephew, Alex Dwyer, a student at Rockbridge Academy, a Christian school in Millersville.

"I was very proud of the work he had done, and I wasn't trying to fire anybody up," Dwyer said.

At 9:35 a.m., the lawmaker forwarded the essay by e-mail to all 187 of his legislative colleagues and quickly learned how inflammatory his nephew's words were, even on a day filled with gruesome images in the news of jubilant Iraqis mutilating the charred corpses of American workers.

Within two hours, Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld shot Dwyer a reply calling the e-mail an "inappropriate" message that "perpetuates hateful stereotypes at a time when building bridges is necessary."

"Simply because your nephew asked you to distribute his views does not mean you cannot use your adult, professional discretion to tell him that it is inappropriate to do so," the Montgomery County Democrat wrote. "I suggest that rather than trying to shield yourself, you keep your nephew's and your discriminatory diatribe to yourself."

Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt replied more curtly.

"I take exception to your assumption that I welcome receiving a message of this nature. Please refrain from repeating this in the future," the Prince George's County Democrat wrote.

Del. Eric M. Bromwell, a conservative Democrat from Baltimore County, reminded Dwyer that he had asked his Republican colleague last year to remove him from the e-mail list.

"You agreed to do so. I hope you will have the courtesy to stand by your word, and stop sending me e-mail," Bromwell wrote.

Dwyer, an outspoken supporter of fundamentalist Christian causes, said he didn't expect his e-mail "to rub anybody the wrong way."

"I've gotten other people who have thanked me for it and admired the writing skills of an eighth-grader," Dwyer said.

Britt said she was offended that the delegate would send her such an e-mail when they don't know each other.

"I as a legislator wouldn't use the General Assembly technology for conveying a message of that type," she said.

The freshman delegate said he doesn't think any rules prohibit his distributing an essentially religious message via the legislative computer system.

William Somerville, the Assembly's ethics counsel, agreed that the message doesn't fit within any of the "explicit prohibitions" of the rules. He said the Joint Committee on Ethics would examine the issue if somebody raised it.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch shook his head after being shown a copy of the e-mail.

"It's a shame that these kind of contentious issues divide people of good will," he said.

Ralph Williams, who teaches a comparative religion course at the University of Michigan, said the paper contains "pretty standard" anti-Islam rhetoric.

"This is the usual stuff that's brought up, with individual quotations taken out of context, ignoring parts of Islam that insist on the nature of Allah as all-compassionate, all-merciful," Williams said.

Mowlana of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he plans to forward the e-mail to the organization's national database of some 100,000 subscribers.

"Mr. Dwyer ... he's a new guy who wants to be famous," Mowlana said. "Well, with this, he has shot himself in the foot."

Dwyer appeared puzzled by the negative reaction.

"I certainly didn't expect to stir up a hornet's nest," he said.

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