To her supporters, Irving, Texas Mayor Beth Van Duyne is a tough-as-nails politician who’s not afraid to take on Islam.
To her critics, Van Duyne is a fear-monger who stokes the flames of Islamophobia.
So both Van Duyne’s fans and foes can surely find a talking point in the Monday incident where Irving police arrested 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade clock to school that they thought looked like a “movie bomb.”
Van Duyne first made headlines for challenging Islam in February, when she wrote a Facebook post vowing to look into a “Shariah law court” that was said to have been set up by an Irving mosque.
“While I am working to better understand how this ‘court’ will function and whom will be subject to its decisions, please know that if it is determined that there are violations of basic rights occurring, I will not stand idle and will fight with every fiber of my being against this action,” she wrote.
But the “Shariah law court” wasn’t actually headquartered in Irving, which abuts Dallas, nor did it have anything to do with the Islamic Center of Irving. A note on the homepage of Dallas’ Islamic Tribunal, which settle civil disputes between Muslims for a fee, aimed to disambiguate the two.
“Media speculation has led members of the local community to wonder if the Islamic Center of Irving is facilitating ‘Shariah Courts’ at the Mosque,” the Islamic Tribunal’s website read. “The management of the Islamic Center of Irving categorically declares that no such court operates on the center’s premises. No other mosque in the area operates such courts. However, the Islamic Tribunal that operates in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, independent of the mosques, to address a genuine need within our faith community for intra-community arbitration.”
Then in March, Van Duyne threw her support behind a bill that would forbid Texas judges from using foreign law in their rulings. The bill’s author, state Rep. Jeff Leach (R), had said the bill would solve the “problem” of the Islamic Tribunal in Dallas, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Van Duyne made the conservative media rounds to talk about the “American laws for American courts” effort, giving interviews to Dana Loesch and Glenn Beck. She spoke with Frank Gaffney, the founder of the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy, on his radio show. Conspiracy theory site WND ran a piece on Van Duyne under the headline “Mayor Takes Stand Against Muslim Shariah Courts.”
She also capitalized on the newfound attention with a Facebook fundraising plea.
“Recent events have put me under attack and I need your help now! Stand with me to help me fight for conservative values and the Constitution,” she wrote on March 25.
Amid criticism of her support for Leach’s bill, Van Duyne turned to the editorial pages of The Dallas Morning News to further propagate what she saw as a non-controversial message.
“To me, this is about making sure people, especially women, understand our nation guarantees certain rights and liberties, and those should not be surrendered,” she wrote in The Dallas Morning News. “It is baffling to comprehend the amount of controversy generated by my support as mayor of Irving for a state law that simply asks family law judges to uphold American fundamental constitutional rights when deciding a case that involves a conflicting foreign law.”
By July, it was The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that chastised Van Duyne for traveling to speak to tea party activists instead of focusing on the needs of the community she represents.
“Van Duyne’s focus on the city’s growth earned her our recommendation in 2014. But we also urged her to build ‘cooperation and unity,'” the editorial read. “She’s failed at that part of the job. An important part of Irving’s population is Muslim, and the city is home to a major mosque.”
“Van Duyne could spend her time more productively by reaching out the local Muslim community instead of catering to tea party voters who feed on fear about Islam and relish shots at the press,” the editorial continued.
While Van Duyne had spent the better part of the past eight months speaking out against Sharia law, she did not mention Mohamed’s background in a Wednesday Facebook post reacting to his arrest.
“I do not fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat,” she wrote. “They have procedures to run when a possible threat or criminal act is discovered. They follow these procedures in the sole interest of protecting our children and school personnel…I hope this incident does not serve as a deterrent against our police and school personnel from maintaining the safety and security of our schools.”
She went on to write that she hoped the incident wouldn’t discourage Mohamed or other students from pursuing their passion for engineering.
No charges were ultimately filed against Mohamed, who has since been invited to visit the White House, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin and Facebook’s headquarters.
Caitlin Cruz contributed to this report.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.