Deedra Abboud answers questions during an interview, July 21, 2017, in her Phoenix campaign office, 124 W. McDowell, Phoenix.

A Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate held a news conference Monday to denounce derogatory comments on social media, many of which target her Islamic faith.

Deedra Abboud, 45, a Phoenix attorney and community activist, spoke to a crowd of about 30 supporters and the media to denounce the “loud and proud” but “small” minority of people whom she said only seek to divide the public. 

The comments, which she described as “fresh-ground Islamophobia,” overgeneralize a diverse group of people, she said.

“In America, we understand that some of our neighbors are Christian conservatives. Some are liberal Christians,” she said. “We know that Catholics in Rome and Catholics in Phoenix may not think the same.” But somehow, some people would like Americans to believe all the world’s Muslims “have no freedom of thought and have no individual responsibility on how they interpret their relationship with God.” 

The supporters cheered when she shared how her husband, after 9/11, told her that for her safety she could take off her hijab. She said she told him she didn’t put it on for him, and she didn’t need his permission to take it off.

Abboud added that she was not the Muslim candidate in the race, but the American, Democratic and grassroots candidate, who happens to be Muslim. 

How it began…

Six days after Abboud’s campaign posted its first video on April 10, she received the first hate comment. 

“Let’s hope she doesn’t have a spiritual crisis and decide to blow herself up to grantee (sic) her entry into heaven. For a Muslim, killing the nonbeliever is the highest form of religious worship,” one user said.

Abboud said initially she used an algorithm to hide — not delete — comments with profanity.

But once the campaign posted Abboud’s stance on the separation of church and state, hateful comments were coming in such numbers that Abboud said the algorithm couldn’t keep up.

Abboud’s post said, in part: “In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers decreed that this nation would separate church and state, and in doing so protect both institutions. Government would be free from religious overreach, and religion would be free from government interference.”

One comment said, “This ignorant muslim (expletive) needs to star in the next isis video. Dressed in orange and on her knees.” 

Another called her a “towel headed piece of (expletive).”

A recent comment on her Instagram account told her to “Kill yourself you sharia loving un-American invader.”

After an Arizona Republic columnist wrote about the attacks, incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted his support for Abboud: “Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You’ll find them,” his tweet said.

In an interview with The Republic, Abboud said she was surprised by Flake’s tweet, and then she was disappointed at her surprise because it’s what people should “expect from our elected leaders.”

She tweeted back thanking the senator, and told The Republic she believes such conversations can make Arizona a role model for responsible and civil political discourse.

Negative comments didn’t come as a surprise

Abboud converted to Islam shortly after she moved to Arizona nearly 20 years ago. She is originally from Arkansas. 

Before that, she said she was a Southern Baptist who spent her college years as a “Muslim hater.” 

“I felt it was my responsibility to bring Jesus to them,” she said of her attempts to convert Muslim students on campus.

But in her quest to prove them wrong, Abboud said she spent 10 years researching Islam and found it spoke to her on a personal level, “as many religions speak to a lot of people,” she said. 

As for any emotional toll from the recent derogatory comments about her faith, she said it has had no effect on her. But she said she’s sad for others who read them and might be hurt. 

“Unfortunately … this is actually what we hear on the street; this is what we hear in the media even,” Abboud said. “That’s what we really have to talk about.”

Using comments to start a conversation

Abboud said hateful rhetoric, and how it was used by politicians in the 2016 election cycle, is what prompted her to run for office.

Since the early 2000s, Abboud has worked with Arizona’s Council on American-Islamic Relations. She said she originally planned to help out as a secretary but it became a full-time job after Sept. 11. About a year later, Abboud became the executive director. 

She said she focused on social-justice issues, working with law enforcement and coalition building. 

Now, her Senate campaign is calling for unity and bringing together people from different political parties to have “human-to-human” conversations.

Currently, only Abboud and former Iowa legislator Richard Sherzan, of Mesa, have announced their candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Some expect more well-known Democrats to get in the race. Among the names frequently mentioned in political circles are state Rep. Randy Friese of Tucson, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., or Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

Flake faces former state Sen. Kelli Ward in Arizona’s 2018 Republican Senate primary. 

Sen. John McCain’s recent diagnosis of brain cancer could force his resignation. But Abboud said she would not run for McCain’s seat, were there a need to fill it in 2018. 

“If I wanted easier, I wouldn’t be in this race,” she said.

Republic reporter Dan Nowicki contributed to this article. Contact the reporter at [email protected].


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