"I'm a Tennessean with, maybe not the southern accent yet. I'm still learning it," said Middle Tennessee State University professor Saleh Sbenaty as he laughed.

Sbenaty has lived in Tennessee for 36 years and he was at home watching TV with his son when he first saw the Marsha Blackburn political ad.

One of the lines said, "gang members, known criminals, people from the Middle East, possibly even terrorists."

"When you put together that, 'criminals, drug dealers,' and so on, then, 'people from the Middle East,' you're bundling people from the Middle East and treating them as criminals and we're talking about 500 million people," said Sbenaty. 

Spenaty is originally from Syria.

He said the political ad is hurtful, racist, and dangerous.

"When we see our leaders basically prey on the fear and the hatred and encourage that, people are going to take actions and we have seen that firsthand on Saturday in Pittsburgh unfortunately," said Sbenaty. 

Blackburn sent News4 a statement that said in part, "Our campaign is highlighting legitimate policy differences on illegal immigration."

The former director of the Tennessee GOP, Michael Sullivan, defended the ad too.

"The ad's language uses language directly from the Department of Homeland Security where they have identified that, inside the caravan, there are these individuals," said Sullivan. 

Meanwhile, Sbenaty and his community are demanding a different response.

"She needs to apologize to the community. She needs to take that ad immediately off the air and I hope people will show that the people of Tennessee are better than this," said Sbenaty.  

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.



Carley Gordon joined the News4 team as a reporter in 2009. Carley currently covers the crime beat around Middle Tennessee.

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