State representative in online fight with alumnus

Mary Ellen Knewtson

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.