Pocan, other Dems bring Muslim guests to State of the Union

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(From left): U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan took Madison Alderman Samba Baldeh to the State of the Union address on Tuesday in Washington.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, the Madison congressman who represents Beloit at the nation’s capital, was one of nearly 20 Democrats who brought along Muslim guests to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

“We appreciate diversity. We know we are a nation of immigrants,” Pocan said.

Pocan’s guest — Madison Alderman Samba Baldeh — owns an IT consulting business and a restaurant. Immigrating to the United States from Gambia 16 years ago, Baldeh is an active volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and other local organizations.

Pocan said he’s concerned the presidential campaign is giving “daily attention to hateful rhetoric and vitriolic speech against Muslims.”

A few months ago, he said similar hate speech was directed against Mexican Americans and years ago such speech was against the LGBT community.

“Not only is it unfair to who lives in this country who are Muslim, but sends a terrible message when we have people in regions (overseas) trying to protect lives,” Pocan said.

Pocan said he is particularly concerned with Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump, for example, called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. amid security concerns.

Pocan called Trump’s proposed ban “ridiculous at best.”

“At worst it’s hateful pandering for people trying to run for president. That language is used against us overseas by ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” Pocan said. “This reality is not the reality, it’s the fantasy of what Donald Trump is making up.”

Cruz, R-Texas, has suggested the U.S. focus on accepting only Christian Syrian refugees, while several governors — including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker — have opposed accepting any Syrian refugees into their states at this time.

Pocan said his fear is the “hateful rhetoric” will make the growing narrative about Muslims normal.

“Beyond that it’s a democratic country, a government for and by the people. The Republicans can say what they want to say — hate talk — but this is a democratic country,” Pocan said.

Baldeh said he’s worried about how Muslim people feel in light of the discussion. Muslim women who wear a veil, for example, are easily identifiable as Muslim and Baldeh fears for their safety.

When it comes to Syrian refugees, Baldeh said America is a country of hope to the world. He said Syrian refugees are going through a hard time.

“Put yourself in their shoes,” Baldeh said.

Baldeh said his neighbors and his community in Madison has been very supportive to the Muslim community, which has been appreciated.

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