Brannigan reaches out to Arabs and Muslims

Brannigan reaches out to Arabs and Muslims

Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan offended Arabs and Muslims with broad stroke comments about immigration that pointed a finger at their race and religion. But Brannigan apologized this week, reiterating apologies she issued twice before saying that she is not anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant. I understand her concerns about immigration and accept her apology because forgiveness is not only a trait of moderates but also fundamental to being American

By Ray Hanania

A few months ago, activists circulated comments Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan posted on her Facebook page involving immigration.

Brannigan expressed fear at the growing Middle Eastern community population of Arabs and Muslims, suggesting there is something wrong with them.

I read her comments and believe Brannigan was trying to address the nation’s broken immigration system but expressed some unfounded fears.

Many immigrants enter this country illegally without proper vetting. Those who say that are often attacked as “racist.” Brannigan made it worse by only pointing her concerns at Arabs and Muslims, which is wrong.

Sharon Brannigan

During the past two board meetings, Arabs I know and respect protested, legitimately, about Brannigan’s comments. After all, Brannigan is a public official and has a responsibility to be clear about her views, and not fuel racism or fears. They have a right to protest.

The issue of immigration is contentious, often distorted by the political fighting between Democrats and Republicans. The battle between Democrats and Republicans is extremely tense in Palos Township.

Brannigan is Republican. Many of her critics are Democrats, which explains why Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle quickly forced Brannigan off the county’s Woman’s Commission. Preckwinkle, a Democrat, is not the progressive she once claimed to be. She’s exploiting this for her own political benefit, not because she cares about Arabs or Muslims.

Sharon Brannigan Facebook Post Jan. 25, 2015. Yet it wasn’t addressed until it became political opportune for Chicago Democrats almost 3 years later!

Preckwinkle is in a fight with suburban Republicans, especially from Palos Township, who are trying to repeal her oppressive sales tax hike on soda pop.

I asked Brannigan to explain her views this week. I only met her once before in 2014 during the Orland Days Parade when she was running for Congress. She was polite and didn’t treat me with disrespect — and I am pretty “Arab looking.” Most people think I am Muslim, though.

This week, Brannigan released a statement in which she again apologized for her posts. She didn’t apologize for her views on immigration, which I share as an American of Arab heritage – we need to enforce our laws and carefully monitor every immigrant who wants to enter this country, especially those who are sneaking in in violation of Federal laws.

Immigration is about security and safety, folks. It doesn’t mean every immigrant sneaking into the country is bad. But it does mean that every immigrant who sneaks into the country illegally hasn’t been properly vetted. So we don’t know.

Thousands of immigrants enter illegally, but it only takes a few to engage in violence, crime and terrorism against this country. (No other country is asked to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, except this country.)

Brannigan’s grandparents are immigrants from Ireland and Italy. My parents were immigrants, too. They came her legally with the determination to make American their home. They didn’t abandon their heritage but they made this country their priority. They embraced it.

I’ve been attacked by racists in both the American and Arab community. I am Palestinian Christian and my wife is Jewish. There are extremists in all communities who find power by exploiting emotions and inflaming tensions. The majority of Arabs and Muslims are good people, though, with a great culture.

Brannigan admitted she did a poor job of expressing her real intentions, and insisted she is not against immigrants or racist against Arabs or Muslims. She said she tried to clarify her comments earlier. But I think her critics were so angry it didn’t matter. “Anger” doesn’t look for “understanding”.

She wrote:

“I apologize to anyone who felt offense from my words. I failed to properly express myself. I am not anti-Arab or anti-Muslim. I am the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country through Ellis Island and who embraced America. I believe we all desire the same goals.”

She also offered to meet with residents who want to discuss this further.

Brannigan sounds genuine. I don’t believe she is racist. I accept her apology because that is the American thing to do.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall reporter. Email him at

Here is Brannigan’s complete statement:

Statement from Sharon Brannigan Monday Sept. 18, 2017
I want to issue a clarification of my statement to Arabs, Muslims and people from the Middle East of our community who took offense to comments I posted on my Facebook Page.
Although my comments were not intended as being anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, I acknowledge that some residents felt they were and for that I am sorry.
After deep reflection, I can honestly say that my words were poorly crafted and my feelings were inadequately expressed. Racism and discrimination is not my intent and is not in my heart. I wanted to speak to the political issues of immigration, but clearly instead of having a discussion about immigration reform and improving America’s immigration policies, the focus instead turned towards allegations and feelings by some of racism.
I am not anti-Arab. I am not anti-Muslim. I am not anti-immigrant.
I am the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country from Ireland and Italy through Ellis Island with a dream of prosperity and goodness. I know what racism is and I know what discrimination is. It was not my intent to reflect any of those feelings.
Through all the hurt feelings and anger, I believe the issues have been distorted and I unintentionally contributed to that misunderstanding. However, they are important. I want to reach out to Arabs and Muslims in Palos Township to use this as an example of how we can find ways to work and live together, and more importantly, better understand each other. I believe we can work together to do what’s best for our community.
America is a nation of immigrants. Legal immigrants. Without question I support everyone who defends this country and respects its laws.
As an elected official, I have a responsibility to speak to all of the residents of Palos Township, not just the ones who understand me and agree with me. I am beyond open and happy to sit with anyone who has legitimate concerns and explain my true intent. I believe responsible public officials need to know when they do right and when they do wrong.
Again, I regret that my words offended anyone. That was not my intent. Going forward, it is my hope that we can work together as a community for the benefit of everyone who lives in Palos Township be they Irish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Italian, Hispanic, Jewish or Middle Eastern. As an elected official, and as responsible activists, we owe it to our community to do so.
I want to repeat:
• I apologize to anyone who felt offense from my words. I failed to properly express myself.
• I am not anti-Arab or anti-Muslim. I am the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country through Ellis Island and who embraced America. I believe we all desire the same goals.
• I am willing to meet with any Arabs or Muslims in Palos Township to discuss this further and have a responsible dialogue. We don’t have to agree on issues of politics but we should be civil and respectful in our language and rhetoric and that will start with me. Thank You
 Sharon Brannigan
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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Click Here to LISTEN to Hanania's live radio show on 2nd Friday every month 7 AM CST. Click here to listen to Ray's Podcasts. 

His columns are archived here. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at

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One comment on “Brannigan reaches out to Arabs and Muslims
  1. Terry Heafey says:


    Did you know that this was Mrs. Brannigan’s third attempted apology?

    Please visit and review her public statement dated 7/10/2017. This was read at the Palos Township meeting. Please read and review her second statement dated 7/28/2017.

    Are we now to believe, especially after the tone of these two prior “apologies”, that she is now sincere in her apology and outreach to the Arab-American community? We should “take her apology seriously”? Which one should we consider?

    I had been awaiting your commentary on this community issue and wondered if you still believe that Mrs. Brannigan, “acts with honor and respect for voters?” as you noted in your 2014 comments about Mrs. Brannigan.

    There is no factual basis to her statements about Palos schools by her own admission in her 7/10/2017 “apology” where she notes, “The policies of the school district within the township and teh (sic) policies of the township are virtually identical as to requirements to receive services. No one has ever been turned away.” If the township does not face these issues, then what led her to believe it is a problem in our Township’s schools. To date, she has provided no evidence that this is an issue in our schools.

    Her use of inflammatory and racist language restricts our community’s ability to have constructive conversations about important community issues. Where is her concern for OUR community while railing about national immigration issues? Especially in the light of a nationally followed hate incident in our township only one month prior.

    I am disappointed that you do not choose to hold our elected officials to a higher standard of care. You choose instead to use the “both sides” and “other agendas” commentary while discussing this issue. I am surprised that you are willing to accept such a low standard of care from our elected officials. Shouldn’t our standard for our elected officials be higher?

    Mrs. Brannigan has forfeited her right to serve this community and should step aside. She can continue her efforts to steer the national agenda and policy on immigration outside the purview of the Palos Township Board. My only “agenda” in pursuing her removal from office is to replace her with an official that not only “knows better” but, in fact, acts better.

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