Trustee sends e-mail disparaging Muslims
By DANIEL BARLOW Herald Staff | September 23,2006
BELLOWS FALLS — Village trustee Stefan Golec forwarded at least two Internet jokes and messages this month to town officials and community leaders that contain derogatory terms for Muslims and are critical of their culture and religion.
One e-mail he forwarded labeled Muslims as "brutal and uncivilized" and another referred to them as "Towel Heads." The e-mails were sent to friends, community leaders and this reporter.
On Thursday Golec said he forwards many e-mails to people and does not always agree with their content or language. He refused to say if he agreed with these messages or articulate his feelings toward Muslims.
"Creating an e-mail and forwarding one are two different things," he said. "I have friends that send me jokes and e-mails and sometimes I forward those along."
Golec has been a member of the Bellows Falls Board of Trustees for a decade.
Rockingham Select Board member Ann DiBernardo received one of the e-mails this week and called the comments they contained "inappropriate." But she also said she does not believe Golec "dislikes or hates Muslims."
"Stefan is very patriotic," DiBernardo said. "He loves this country. I don't think he is anti-Muslim, I think he is just very patriotic."
Village President Clark Barber said he had not seen the e-mails and has no control over what trustees do in their free time.
"I myself deplore any kind of discrimination or prejudice," Clark said. "But unless this becomes a town issue, I don't think we can do anything about it."
One e-mail Golec forwarded Sept. 20 was titled, "Towel Heads," and contained a cartoon showing an elderly Caucasian woman in slippers and holding a coffee mug. The text of the cartoon suggests that "Islamic terrorists" do not like being called "Towel Heads" because "the item they wear on their head is not actually a towel, but in fact, a small folded sheet."
"Therefore, from this point forward, please refer to them as 'Little Sheet Heads,'" the cartoon reads.
The full text of that cartoon also was published this month in the weekly newsletter of the Pierre Area Senior Citizen's Center in Pierre, S.D., according to a recent story in the Capital Journal, a South Dakota newspaper. The newsletter was criticized for using the piece because of its derogatory references to Muslims.
The text of the cartoon refers to the Muslim tradition of wearing a keffiyeh, an Arab headdress typically made from cloth. The headdresses are commonly worn to provide protection from direct sunlight and to cover the face from blowing sand.
Another e-mail he forwarded to several people on Sept. 7, titled "Political Correctness," contained a February 2006 letter to a Muslim student group from Indrik Wichman, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan.
In the letter, written at the height of outrage in the Middle East over a series of cartoons in a Dutch newspaper about the prophet Muhammad, Wichman tells the students, "If you do not like the values of the West … you are free to leave."
"I hope for God's sake that most of you choose that option," Wichman's letter said. "Please return to your ancestral homelands and build them up yourselves instead of troubling Americans."
The Internet has become a prominent source of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and e-mail has made it quick and easy for people to redistribute the offensive material, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Ignorance of Islam also may run high in communities with few or no Muslims, Hooper added. Vermont's minority population was estimated to be about 4 percent in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is not clear how many Vermonters identify themselves as Muslims.
"It's unfortunate that an elected official choose to send out statements like those," Hooper said. "I recommend that he take the time to speak with a Muslim about their faith."
As a relatively new form of communication, e-mails sometimes create an atmosphere where "common sense and social courtesy are not always used", said Steve West, the owner of Fearless Computing, a computer troubleshooting business in Brattleboro.
"People have to remember not to say things on the Internet that they wouldn't say in a social circumstance," West said.
Contact Daniel Barlow at email@example.com.