Local Muslims in Tennessee are calling for an apology from Coffee County Commissioner Barry West for posting a photo to his Facebook page of a man holding a shotgun with the message “How to Wink at a Muslim.”
The post was deleted from West’s Facebook about an hour later, after screenshots of his post went viral.
Instead of an apology, West responded via email: “No I did not Twitter this … no I did not create this picture … yes I shared it … so why am I being singled out?”
National Islamic advocacy groups have joined local Muslims in their request for an apology. A statewide group dedicated to communication between Muslims, Tennessee lawmakers and law enforcement, the American Muslim Advocacy Council tweeted: “Demand Coffee County Commissioner Barry West apologize for his hateful post on Saturday. Call him now.”
Drost Kokoye, board member of the American Muslim Advocacy Council, said elected officials post memes like this one to influence constituents.
“This may just be a picture to him, but for us it is very threatening,” said Kokoye, who has lived in Tennessee for 17 years. “Muslims in Coffee County should not feel safe to walk outside their homes.”
Sabina Mohyddin, who has lived in Coffee County since 2002, said West’s message scared her.
“That gun was pointed at me and my family,” Mohyuddin said. “We know that these lead to discrimination and hate crimes in the Muslim community, and we are very wary of that.
“I am a second generation American. My children are third generation. We don’t see ourselves as anything but American.”
Mayor David Pennington said West’s Facebook post is not characteristic of Coffee County and the county should not be judged based on it.
“I have no control on what a commissioner does when he leaves the commission meeting,” Pennington said. “I have no idea why he did it.”
Pennington said the commission would be admonished at their next meeting and warned about being more careful about posting to social media.
The incident comes after a string of anti-Islamic acts took place in Middle Tennessee. In recent years, at least four acts of vandalism have taken place at mosques. In Rutherford County, the Federal Justice Department had to intervene in order for a new mosque to be opened.