It’s no surprise that two candidates could not resist playing the “Muslim card” in the recent GOP debate. The bigger surprise is that more candidates did not follow suit.
Park 51 (the plan to build the so-called mosque at ground zero) surfaced the deep roots of fear of Islam and Muslims and triggered a tsunami of hate crimes. Shariah has become the code word and symbol to exploit voters fears and engage in Islam and Muslim-bashing without any push-back because nobody, including most of the candidates, knows what it is. And lets us not forget the Peter King congressional hearings.
Poor Herman Cain knows shariah is a problem, but does not know what it is or why it is a problem? Cain is “uncomfortable” including a Muslim in his cabinet or having one as federal judge because "…there is creeping attempt to gradually ease Shariah Law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong to our government."
Cain insisted, “There have been instances in New Jersey and Oklahoma where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia Law.” Is he sure? If so, who, when and where? Why does fellow Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey refuse to toe that line? Pressed in the debate as to why he would not be comfortable having a Muslim in his administration, he replied, ‘I wouldn’t be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us. I meant the ones that are trying to kill us.’ So would he appoint African Americans, Hispanics, Italian-Americans and members of other groups associated with past crime waves or whose members have been imprisoned for violent crimes?
Cain wants to question Muslims about their commitment to the Constitution “to make sure we have people committed to the Constitution working for this country.” But he wouldn’t do the same with Christians or Jews. So much for equality of all citizens.
Newt Gingrich could not afford to be “left” behind: “I'm in favor of saying to people, 'If you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period.’ We did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists and it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered, after a while, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.”
So ALL Muslims, not just an infinitely small number of terrorists, are to be compared to Nazis and communists? Is that the magnitude of the threat? Gingrich and Cain should be real patriots and turn over their evidence to the FBI, Justice Department, Homeland Security and local police because law enforcement offices certainly have not found evidence to support these allegations.
Surprisingly, Tim Pawlenty did not weigh in. Pawlenty has touted the fact that he shut down a program for Sharia compliant mortgages, a program whose creation his administration initially supported. Of course you can’t blame him because, like other candidates, he knows that many potential voters from the right wing of the Republican Party believe Sharia-compliant finance is part of a stealth jihad to subvert the Constitution.
The far right is long on fear mongering and short on providing supportive evidence. They ignore major polls by Gallup, Pew and others that show that the vast majority of Muslims are politically, economically middle class and educationally integrated into American society. Their desire not to be confused by the facts contributes to a growing climate of Islamophobia that has led to discrimination, hate crimes, violence, desecration of mosques and the violation of the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Surveys have shown that Muslims are not looking to install Islamic law in the U.S., promote terrorism or undermine the American Constitution.
Let’s get it right. Should candidates address issues of national security and concerns about Muslim terrorists in America? Of course they should. What candidates have succumbed to is the exploitation of legitimate fear about domestic terrorism with the brush stroking (or perhaps better the tar and feathering) of a faith and the majority of its mainstream believers. Most states that have moved to pass anti-Shariah legislation have not acted because of a major Muslim attempt to replace American law with Islamic law. Indeed, as a mystified Muslim in North Dakota said when a legislator announced he would push for anti-sharia legislation: “There are only 2,000 of us in the entire state.” In fact, there are far more right wing politicians, political commentators and Islamophobes talking about Shariah than the vast majority of American Muslims who, like Jews and Christians and followers of other faiths, accept and follow the Constitution and American laws.
It's time to call a spade a spade, a bigot a bigot and stop those who would resurrect the intolerance of the past and add Muslims to a long list of groups that has included Jews, African Americans, World War II Japanese Americans and others who have been victims of religious discrimination and racism.
John L. Esposito is professor & founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He wrote this article for washingtonpost.com/onfaith