Debbie Riddle

A state representative told a UT alumnus last week to go to Afghanistan if the United States was not sensitive enough for him, and said Wednesday that she stands behind her statement.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, made the remark after UT alumnus Abdul Pasha, now in his second year at South Texas College of Law, responded to Rep. Riddle’s Facebook status bemoaning the military’s sensitivity training. Pasha posted a link to an article about the training and instructions to “go educate yourself.” Riddle told Pasha to act like an American and stand up for the military.

“If you can’t do that then go where people are sensative [sic] enough for you — I guess that would be Afghanistan,” Riddle wrote on the thread.

The conversation, originally reported by The Horn, began when Riddle posted a status about her disappointment that soldiers would receive sensitivity training before going to Afghanistan. Riddle defended this position and said the training was unnecessary and insulting to American soldiers who possess the common sense necessary to conduct themselves appropriately.

Pasha, 23, said he moved with his family from Pakistan to the United States in 1999 and considers himself an American. He said he thought Riddle was kidding when he first read the comments directed toward him.

Pasha, a Muslim, said he was particularly offended when Riddle wrote: “Ok, Abdul, I guess it is ok that the Muslims kill and torture people when they get their feelings hurt.”

“If they don’t want to be politically correct that’s fine, but don’t spew hate,” Pasha said. ”Don’t spew fear or violence against Muslims. Political representation means you are representing your entire district, and she is the leader of that district.”

Riddle said she has plenty of friends who are Muslims and who also think sensitivity training for the military is unnecessary, and said she was not interested in being politically correct at the expense of speaking her mind.

“If you want to inject a huge amount of political correctness in this, I’m not the gal you want to talk to,” Riddle said. “I think being real and honest is what people expect when they elect someone. The public, especially my constituents, appreciate the honesty and they appreciate the candor.”

Stephen Ollar, president of the UT Student Veteran Association (not to be confused with the Student Veterans Association), who has served in Afghanistan and in Iraq, said sensitivity training is needed as evidenced by instances of gross insensitivity by soldiers abroad, such as marines caught urinating on a dead body. He said even small breaches destroy the rapport with Afghan officials that is crucial to the military’s success.

“Winning over the populace when you’re fighting an insurgency is the most important thing you can do to win a war,” Ollar said. “If you aggravate those people you basically deprive yourself of that type of intelligence. And that’s what we keep doing, unfortunately, because we have these young men out fighting these wars who don’t have a lot of personal experience in life who do things to shoot the military in the foot.”

Ollar said everyone comes into the military from different backgrounds, and behavior that one soldier might find acceptable, another would find flawed. He said it’s crucial that everyone be on the same page.

A blend of Spanish and English cries rose up to the Capitol’s south steps at a rally against proposed legislation that would target undocumented immigrants in Texas.

More than 200 people from various organizations and university groups gathered to protest, among other things, a bill state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, proposed that is similar to one enacted in Arizona in April 2010. The Texas bill would allow law enforcement officials to ask about the citizenship of someone who is in their custody for another crime. If federal records show the person is an undocumented immigrant, they may face additional charges.

Jannell Robles, an organizer with Houston United, said laws similar to Arizona’s bill would lead to racial profiling.

“It’s not the humane thing to do, to go around asking people for their papers,” she said.
Robles said police officers waste their time inquiring about citizenship status.

Although the organizing group is based in Houston, activists from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and South Texas were present at the rally.

Gov. Rick Perry recently included sanctuary cities — where GOP lawmakers believe city officials flout federal immigration statutes — on a legislative emergency list, which allows state lawmakers to begin debating bills on the subject. Rally organizer Michael Espinoza said the move will only appease Perry’s conservative voting base.

“Securing our borders is serious,” Espinoza said. “But what’s also serious is ensuring the safety, security and integration of people already here. This is one of many more rallies to take place during the legislative session. Our message today is that we’re all family.”

The protestors also assailed a bill that would require undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition at Texas public colleges, said Jesus Perales, former vice president of a student group at Lamar University in Beaumont.

“We invest in education for all students,” Perales said. “They’ve grown up here in Texas, and to deny them a right to higher education would put their hope down.”

Perales’ organization worked to pass the DREAM Act, which would have granted citizenship to undocumented college students and active duty soldiers and veterans. Since the bill failed in the U.S. Senate in December, the organization shifted its focus to telling undocumented high school students who aspire to go to college about proposed legislation that threatens to put college out of reach financially, he said.