Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull has apologized for social media posts expressing Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views, but said that recent public conversation has taken them out of context.
"I certainly didn't imagine that some of (the posts) would be presented to countless people, causing fear and anxiety," Shull said during an event on Monday, Jan. 18, at the Muslim Educational Trust in Tigard, describing an email with screenshots of the postings as intended to "cause a public media storm."
Shull said community members needed to know who he was as they considered the situation.
"Much of my life involved military service [requiring] me to be focused on security threats to the United States," he told religious leaders gathered for the meeting. "During my service, I was able to experience some of the most beautiful and deeply meaningful human interactions, as well as the some of the worst pain, suffering. Part of my job [was] to work closely and constructively with innocent people in areas of conflict. After my service ended, I continued to focus on the agents of conflict."
"It is clear to me that my energy should have shifted a decade ago to become more involved with domestic peacekeeping, social understanding, and fostering community," he added.
During the discussion, Shull said he took responsibility for his comments.
"I accept full responsibility for every word that ever came out of my mouth, regardless of the situation in which those words are spoken, or to whom the words were directed, today with humility and sincerity," he said, apologizing for "failing to have greater consideration in my responsibility to them as Americans, as people who want to be included in this society, as people who have dreams for tomorrow, as people who want to hear words of inclusion, love and respect."
Apology fails to satisfy some
More than 100 elected official leaders and community organizations have called for Shull's resignation. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, including Shull, supported a Jan. 14 resolution calling for his resignation. Shull has said he intended to remain on the board.
Many community leaders have said Shull's comments are harmful.
"He does not need to meet with the community right now. What he needs to do is resign," said Nafisa Fai, the first Muslim to serve on the neighboring Washington County Commission, prior to Monday s event. "He still doesn't understand the impact of his comments, how hurtful they are and how they put a lot of people's safety in danger."
After Shull's most recent apology, Fai renewed her call for Shull's resignation.
He needs to resign!! https://t.co/AOXh1tjNSz— Nafisa Fai (@NafisaFai) January 19, 2021
"Not one person who denounced me took the time to discuss the facts. Not one person who wanted to assassinate my character took the time to assess the life of Mark Shull," Shull said. "Politicians took action to distance themselves from me. Political rivals took advantage of the situation to further their political goals."
He described Wajdi Said, MET president and co-founder, as "a lone kind voice, extending the desire for dialogue."
"I met with him, I met with two Imans and other members of the Muslim community, and I listened to their stories of the challenges faced by Muslim immigrants," Shull said. "The love in their hearts became evident. These were real Americans who respected the Constitution while peacefully following the faith. These were Americans who love the land just as I do."
Shull noted that he has traveled "through the lands of Islam, in Central and North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East."
"During these travels and military assignments, thousands of these interactions were positive and respected. Even while deployed to Iraq, I was able to concentrate on peaceful interactions, often requiring additional exposure and danger to my own life,"he said. "Those facts were not of the least importance to those who released [the] email."
Shull also addressed members of the Black community who may have been offended by his statements.
"My relationship with Black brothers and sisters has always been constant. I've always had many friends who are Black. They bring a beautiful culture, a beautiful attitude. I've always enjoyed my Black friends," Shull said. "To all Black immigrants in America, anyone who ever got the feeling that I did not value your citizenship in this nation, please forgive whatever comment that came from."
When asked about Black Lives Matter, Shull replied that all lives matter.
"Black lives. White lives. All lives in creation," he said.
Looking to the future
J.W. Matt Hennessee, pastor at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, discussed the value of addressing "ignorance and bigotry with a strong sense of compassionate resolve that seeks to find healing and reconciliation while holding those in power accountable for their actions."
"My belief is that we must focus on the importance of the words of Dr. King, who reminded us that [if] we cannot live together as brothers and sisters, we will perish together as fools," Hennessee said. "So it's extremely important that we understand that we must live out the love of community. It doesn't just happen. It means that we each of us have to bring our love to the table. "
In addition to making a public apology, Said said Shull should state on his social media that all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter.
Previously, leaders in Oregon's Muslim community had said that Shull's postings required immediate resignation.
Prior to Monday's event, the Muslim Educational Trust sent a letter describing fundamental steps, including apologizing for public harm, convening public conversations on healing and facilitating educational forums on xenophobia in general and focused Islamophobia specifically.
"For the practical Pacific Northwesterners meeting with Commissioner Shull, in the middle of so much American anger and sorrow, our desired outcomes will be the answers to the questions we put to Commissioner Shull and to ourselves, " the letter stated, and posed the following questions:
" How do we stop our societal and our spiritual disintegration, here and now?
What can we ask Commissioner Shull, his family, and community to do, and what can we ask elected officials in all political parties, organizations, citizens wanting to cancel him, to do, for truth and reconciliation. Here and now. "
The letter was endorsed by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Institute for Christian-Muslim Understanding, New Portland Foundation, Arab and Jewish Muslim Dialogue, the Beloved Community Coalition, Oregon Muslim Youth and representatives from the Muslim Community Center of Portland, the Salman Al Farsi Islamic Centner, the Salem Islamic Society, the New Portland Foundation, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Congregation Havurah Shalom, the Islamic Bosniaks Educational and Cultural Center, Bilal Masjid, the Somali American Council of Oregon, the Oregon Islamic Academy, the Libyan Society of Portland and the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church.
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