This story is a metaphor that perfectly encapsulates the Idaho Republican’s devolution from a political party to a hysteria machine greased with the lube of fear.
It begins in 2011 when 10 members of the Idaho Legislature traveled to Turkey on a junket. While there, Republican Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls snapped a photo of himself, which he later posted on his blog.
There are two points of interest in this blog post. We’ll start with the phrase “We visited a mosque…” and the accompanying photo. It doesn’t take more than a glance to recognize that Heider is standing in the Hagia Sophia, which is not a mosque. In fact, for 900 years, it was the center of the Greek Orthodox religion. It’s been a museum since 1935.
Here’s a photo of the Hagia Sophia. It’s clearly the same building in Heider’s photo.
So what’s the big deal? Turkey has a lot of old buildings. Who cares if Heider confused one of the greatest architectural achievements of western civilization with a run-of-the-mill mosque? The truth is we should all care. The Hagia Sophia is one of the most important cultural sites on earth. Visiting it is an honor — at the very least, it should be memorable.
That brings us to the second point of interest, the part of his blog that says, “The people of Turkey were wonderful.” Considering 98 percent of the people of Turkey are Muslim, we assume he’s talking about Muslims.
So why was Heider the only Idaho Legislator to attend a talk given by the anti-Islam bigot Shahram Hadian in July?
If Heider already characterized Muslims as “wonderful” on his trip to Turkey, why would he need to hear about Muslims from an infamous fearmonger? Maybe he feels a need to balance wonderful experiences with hate speech?
Or maybe it’s just a symptom of the bigger picture: a Republican Party that has tacked further to the right, and further from reality. Just think, five years ago Heider was accepting travel junkets to Turkey. Now he’s attending anti-immigrant rallies.
But it begs a bigger question. Can a man who thinks the Hagia Sophia is a mosque tell the difference between Islamophobia and the reality of his past experiences?
We hope so.