Thursday, June 16, 2011

Islamophobia Not Up for Debate in GOP Primary Face-Off

As the field heats up for the 2012 GOP primary race, Herman Cain has doubled (or by now it might be more like tripled or quadrupled) down on his previous claims of being "uncomfortable" at the thought of appointing a Muslim to his administration or to a position as a federal judge. During Monday night's debate, which also featured presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Michelle Bachman, Cain was pressed on his past comments regarding the appointment of Muslim officials, and offered the following by way of response:

In all fairness, Cain's willingness to express some positive sentiments about American Muslims places him half a rung up the ladder from the worst of conservative Islamophobes. Instead of a monolithic conception of American Muslims as as blood-thirsty, Shariah-creeping sleeper terrorists (I'm looking at you Frank Gaffney), Cain instead promotes a relatively complex, binary theory of American Islam: "You have peaceful Muslims, and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us." As Cain explained, in his previous comments he was referring only to those Muslims in this latter category, and who can blame Cain for feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being forced to name an imaginary, otherwise-qualified Muslim candidate bent on Cain's murder to his cabinet?

What is important here is that Cain is obviously backpedaling. Whether he is concerned about the Constitutionality of explicitly freezing Muslims out of public office or whether he is simply trying to garner that small but vital block of PC conservative Islamophobes, Cain's harping on the distinction between his own personal discomfort over hiring Muslims and a flat-out refusal to hire Muslims does constitute a modest roll-back of his posture over the last few months.

Yet despite the fact that all federally appointed officials are required to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution (which, remember, Cain considers to be diametrically opposed to the evils of Shariah law), Cain's concerns cannot be sufficiently assuaged to allow him to feel comfortable in appointing a Muslim-American to office. What if that appointee had their fingers crossed when they took the oath to support the Constitution? Might not the new Muslim appointee still be secretly attempting to promote the creep of Shariah law? And why is it that Shariah is always creeping, anyway?

No, the risk is simply too great, as Newt Gingrich interrupted John King to point out. After Romney responded to Cain's fears over Shariah law with a lukewarm but nevertheless reasonable-sounding endorsement of religious tolerance. Not to be outdone by Cain, and likely sensing an opportunity to stick one to Romney for being soft on Shariah, Gingrich explained his position on this non-issue as follows:
“Now, I just want to go out on a limb here...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.”
Now, Newt has never been one for subtlety, but lumping American Muslims in with Nazis and Soviet spies strikes me as beyond disingenuous, and approaching downright dangerous. Think for a moment about the implications of this grouping. This is the pantheon of legendary baddies, the perpetual Enemies of the US of A, the very antitheses of what many consider this country to stand for. Put perhaps most poignantly, these are the guys that Indiana Jones fights.

But we fought a war with Germany, and we locked ourselves into decades of nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union. And despite our on-going $1.2 trillion efforts to ostensibly root out the meager handful of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims who would use their faith to justify attacking the United States, we have never been at war with Islam. The demonitization of American Muslims for the sake of political pandering tugs at the frayed hole left in the fabric of our this nation's pluralistic birthright by the events of 9/11, and prevents a nation desperately in need of unity and understanding from realizing these lofty purposes.

Both Gingrich and Cain have proven themselves once again to be all too willing to perpetuate the conservative myth that Muslim-Americans are somehow less patriotic than their fellow citizens. (And for a quick case study that explodes this myth, check out the first installment of the Washington Post's new series, "American Muslims," which profiles a Palestinian-born man who sells American flags and loves Fleetwood Mac). But by lumping Islam, and American Muslims in particular, in with the two perpetual boogie-men of Nazism and communism, Newt appears to have leap-frogged right over Cain to take of the ignoble position as most the most blatantly Islamophobic member of the 2012 GOP field. 

It is unacceptable for public figures to continue playing upon ignorance and the fear it breeds to further their own political careers. Gingrich and Cain must be held accountable for their blatant fear-mongering and Islamophobia. Muslims have been in the United States since before the United States were the United States, with many thousands brought over on slave ships from sub-Saharan Africa. And despite the strides made in religious tolerance and civil rights in the intervening centuries, the invaluable contributions of Muslims to the American experiment remain incalculable to individuals like Gingrich and Cain, blinded as they are by ambition, fear, and prejudice.

1 comment:

  1. This is a particularly insidious form of scapegoating for political gain. Muslims did not attack the United States on 9/11. Criminal mass murders claiming to be Muslim did. Just like the Italian fascists fought the U.S. in World War II, and the Mafia continues to commit crimes, do we blame their Catholic beliefs for their heinous behavior? The KKK was primarily Southern Baptist. Do we label Southern Baptists as terrorists?