The Candidates on Islam

December 8, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, Muslim Chaplain, Attorney and Political Analyst

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Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), stand at attention during the singing of the national anthem during the CNN GOP National Security debate in Washington, November 22, 2011.

REUTERS/Jim Bourg

As republican voters near the time to elect their presidential candidate for the 2012 election, the candidates’ respective religious perspectives become significant to many. One topic that does not escape public scrutiny is the candidates’ stand on Islam and Muslims in America. It has become an important issue that calls the attention of both Muslim and non-Muslim voters. Noticeably some candidates appear not to realize that the American Muslim community has a significant number of political conservatives sympathetic to many issues within the Republican Party platform.

The GOP presidential hopefuls’ stand on Islam and Muslims has been varied. Their stands have ranged from being thoughtful and considerate to being discourteous, rude and unappreciative of the history, losing potential support.

Some candidates have clearly opted to try to win votes by denigrating Islam and disparaging Muslims. Taking the lead in the anti-Muslim frenzy is Herman Cain, who has consistently held a hostile discourse on Islam, belittling almost anything or anyone resonating Muslim. Among many instances we may take as example Cain’s opposition to the construction of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., unreasonably arguing that it’s not religious discrimination for a community to ban a mosque. On this same line, Cain has also affirmed that he wouldn’t appoint Muslims to his cabinet and even suggested to impose a loyalty test on any Muslim before allowing him to serve in his administration.

His anti-Muslim rhetoric returned recently when he expressed that more than half of American Muslims are extremists based on a “trusted adviser” who informed him so.

Rick Perry has wisely distanced himself from the bigoted rhetoric and instead has a history of good and positive relations with the Muslims community. Perry endorsed Texas public high school teacher education programs on Islamic history. As governor he signed a Halal Law, which makes it a criminal offense to sell Halal and non-Halal meat in the same store without specifically labeling the two and to misrepresent non-Halal meat as being Halal. Governor Perry has held constructive ties with the Muslim Aga Khan’s community and hosted their world known leader on his visit to Texas. He followed up by attending the inauguration of their Ismaili Jamatkhana Islamic Center in Sugar Land, Texas in 2002; and later laid the first brick for another of their centers in Plano, Texas in 2005. On the other hand, Perry’s ties to the rest of the mainstream Muslim community as a whole are scarce, and his posture is mostly perceived as neutral, with neither “pro” nor “against” community stances.

Mitt Romney’s relations with the American Muslim community have not been smooth. Recently, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked the presidential hopeful for the ouster of Dr. Walid Phares a recently appointed foreign policy adviser to his team. Phares authored “Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America” and also acts as an advisor to the U.S. Congress on the Middle East. According to CAIR he worked as an official in the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, and other militias that reportedly took part in various massacres of Muslims. The controversial appointment has certainly created a wave of controversy within the American Muslim community that waits for Romney to take their concerns into consideration.

Newt Gingrich’s stance on issues related to American Muslims and Islam has been scornful. Falling victim to the Muslim hysteria on the debate on the Ground Zero Mosque, Gingrich compared the Islamic Community Center project to building a Nazi monument outside the Holocaust Museum. This was clearly a very insensitive position that will take more than a simple apology — not that it is expected — to amend.

Michele Bachmann has not demonstrated a capacity to engage the American Muslim community neither shown capacity to understand and respect diversity. Her comments on the civil uprisings that took place in France back in 2005 were very discomforting: “Those who are coming into France, which has a beautiful culture, the French culture is actually diminished. It’s going away. And just with the population in France, they are losing Western Europeans, and it’s being taken over by a Muslim ethic. Not that Muslims are bad, but they are not assimilating.”

Rick Santorum has joined Gingrich’s Islam-bashing team, expressing misleading comments on the question of sharia taking over the U.S. court system. On the most recent debate Santorum was even more assertive on his opinion on Muslims. When asked if he would support ethnic and religious profiling he replied: “The folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes … obviously Muslims would be someone you’d look at, absolutely.”

Among all candidates, libertarian leaning Ron Paul seems to be the one who have consistently pronounced himself distant from any expression that could be construed as Islamophobic. He issued firm statements condemning Pastor Terry Jones’ controversial call for a “Burn the Quran Day.” In September 2010 Paul stated: “This blame of all Muslims for the atrocities of 9/11 only makes things worse — especially since it wasn’t the Taliban of Afghanistan that committed the atrocities.” More recently, on a CBS interview, Paul said that al Qaeda itself cited American intervention in the region as its motivation for attacking the U.S. and “to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we’re free and prosperous I think is a very, very dangerous notion because it’s not true.”

John Huntsman is another candidate that for the most part has rejected to take a ride on the Islamophobia train that most republic candidates not only designed but are now fueling and giving hand-detailed maintenance.

The comments and actions that vilify Islam and Muslims — or any other religion and its practitioners — by the Republican Party presidential hopefuls show an evident betrayal of commitment to the freedom of religion consecrated in the U.S. Constitution. Exploiting Muslims for political gain will undoubtedly alienate them from a significant section of the voting public who hold religion dear to their hearts.

Follow Wilfredo Amr Ruiz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnalistaInter

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Study: Western-Muslim Tensions Getting Better

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amelia T.

After Herman Cain’s recent declaration that American communities should be able to ban mosques, it would be easy to understand why relations between Muslim and Western countries might be strained.  A new study  from the Pew Center has some mildly hopeful news: although tensions between Muslim and Western publics are still palpable, they’ve gotten slightly better in the past five years.  While both populations still hold negative stereotypes of each other, Westerners (i.e. US residents and Western Europeans) are less likely to say that they had bad relations with Muslim countries than in 2006.  Muslims, however, aren’t as optimistic.

Ironically, each population characterized the other as “fanatical and violent.”  Muslims in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia were likely to say that Westerners were “selfish, immoral and greedy,” while Westerners criticized the residents of Muslim countries for refusing to tolerate or respect women.

Even though Westerners think that relations are getting better, while Muslims say that their impressions of Westerners are as bad as they were five years ago, there may be more of a consensus on whose fault it is.  Muslims overwhelmingly blamed the West for tensions, and while many Westerners did blame Muslim countries, a sizable percentage were also willing to point the finger at themselves.

In a change that perhaps reflects the general mood surrounding the Arab Spring, “Muslims and Westerners believe corrupt governments and inadequate education in Muslim nations are at least partly responsible for the lack of prosperity.”  And both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism.

What the report highlights is the extent to which assumptions about relations between Muslim and Western countries shape the stereotypes that the two populations assign to each other.  It’s important, also, to break down these monolithic categories into area-specific groups. 

For example, Indonesian Muslims are more likely to associate positive traits with Westerners, while Pakistani Muslims (for obvious reasons) have increasingly negative feelings about Western relations.

Identity is also a slippery category.  While Muslims overwhelmingly identify with their religion, rather than their country of origin, European Christians are equally likely to say that their national identity is more important than their religious identity.  There is a palpable divide in the United States, although 7 in 10 evangelical Christians identify first with their religion.  Unsurprisingly, there was a strong consensus among Westerners that Muslims living in the West did not want to assimilate into Western culture.  People without college degrees were more likely to “believe that Muslims want to remain distinct from the broader society.”

While the report does not provide answers to mending the rift between Western and European countries, it does break down some of the complexities in fascinating ways.

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Stand Up to Herman Cain

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Eugene Robinson

It is time to stop giving Herman Cain’s unapologetic bigotry a free pass. The man and his poison need to be seen clearly and taken seriously.

Imagine the reaction if a major-party presidential candidate — one who, like Cain, shows actual support in the polls — said he “wouldn’t be comfortable” appointing a Jew to a Cabinet position. Imagine the outrage if this same candidate loudly supported a community’s efforts to block Mormons from building a house of worship.

But Cain’s prejudice isn’t against Mormons or Jews, it’s against Muslims. Open religious prejudice is usually enough to disqualify a candidate for national office—but not, apparently, when the religion in question is Islam.

Sunday, Cain took the position that any community in the nation has the right to prohibit Muslims from building a mosque. The sound you hear is the collective hum of the Founding Fathers whirring like turbines in their graves.

Freedom of religion is, of course, guaranteed by the Constitution. There’s no asterisk or footnote exempting Muslims from this protection.

Cain says he knows this. Obviously, he doesn’t care.

Cain’s remarks came as “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace was grilling him about his obsession with the attempt by some citizens of Murfreesboro  to halt construction of a mosque. Wallace noted that the mosque has operated at a nearby site for more than 20 years, and asked, sensibly, what the big deal is.

Cain launched into an elaborate conspiratorial fantasy about how the proposed place of worship is “not just a mosque for religious purposes” and how there are “other things going on.”

This imagined nefarious activity, it turns out, is a campaign to subject the nation and the world to Islamic religious law. Anti-mosque activists in Murfreesboro are “objecting to the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, sharia law,” Cain said. “That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”

Let’s return to the real world for a moment and see how bogus this argument is. Presumably, Cain would include Roman Catholicism among the “traditional religions” that deserve constitutional protection. It happens that our legal system recognizes divorce, but the Catholic Church does not. This, by Cain’s logic, must constitute an attempt to impose “Vatican law” on an unsuspecting nation.

Similarly, Jewish congregations that observe kosher dietary laws must be part of a sinister plot to deprive America of its God-given bacon.

Wallace was admirably persistent in pressing Cain to either own up to his prejudice or take it back. “But couldn’t any community then say we don’t want a mosque in our community?” Wallace asked.
“They could say that,” Cain replied.

“So you’re saying any community, if they want to ban a mosque. . .,”

Wallace began.

“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.

For the record, they don’t. For the record, there is no attempt to impose sharia law; Cain is taking arms against a threat that exists only in his own imagination. It makes as much sense to worry that the Amish will force us all to commute by horse and buggy.

This demonization of Muslims is not without precedent. In the early years of the 20th century, throughout the South, white racists used a similar “threat” — the notion of black men as sexual predators who threatened white women — to justify an elaborate legal framework of segregation and repression that endured for decades.

As Wallace pointed out, Cain is an African American who is old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation. “As someone who, I’m sure, faced prejudice growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s, how do you respond to those who say you are doing the same thing?”

Cain’s response was predictable: “I tell them that’s absolutely not true, because it is absolutely, totally different. . . . We had some laws that were restricting people because of their color and because of their color only.”

Wallace asked, “But aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?”

Said Cain: “I’m willing to take a harder look at people that might be terrorists.”

Generations of bigots made the same argument about black people.

They’re irredeemably different. Many of them may be all right, but some are a threat. Therefore, it’s necessary to keep all of them under scrutiny and control.

Bull Connor and Lester Maddox would be proud.

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Herman Cain’s Muslim Problem

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tim Murphy

On Tuesday, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain dropped by Glenn Beck’s radio program to argue that his previous promise to not appoint any Muslims to his Cabinet had been “misconstrued.” As he put it: “I did not say that I would not have them in my cabinet. If you look at my career, I have hired good people regardless of race, religion, sex gender, orientation, and this kind of thing.”

Cain’s position now is that only radical Muslims would be prohibited from serving in his administration. That sounds reasonable. Except he told Laura Ingraham in April that he’s never met a Muslim who didn’t fit his definition of a radical—and in the same interview, alleged that Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.), who’s Muslim, has pledged his loyalty to Allah, not the Constitution. But even if Cain’s original statement, and subsequent defenses of it, were misconstrued, he still hasn’t adequately explained the rest of what he told Think Progress back in April.

When asked for examples of the “creeping attempt…to gradually ease” Islamic sharia law into the American judicial system he explained:

One judge did it up in New Jersey, and ruled in a case. Then last week we heard about a judge down in was it Texas? It might have been Texas where a judge said there was a dispute in a mosque and he was gonna consider ‘eclesiastical’ law in his deliberations, because of a dispute that was going on inside a mosque. This is the United States of America. Just because it’s going on inside a mosque doesnt mean you execute the laws based on what’s going on in the [mosque].”

Cain is right: This is the United States of America. But everything else here is inaccurate. In the civil case in question—which was in Florida, not Texas—the judge (a Republican) ruled that he was going to use “ecclesiastical” law because both parties had agreed, per their mutually agreed-upon contract, to settle their dispute through ecclesiastical Islamic law, in the form of a Muslim arbitrator. That’s totally normal; Christians and Jews also take advantage of independent arbitrators to settle disputes. If the government were to ban the use of such forums, it would mark a dramatic encroachment on the First Amendment’s freedom of religion—I’m fairly certain that Herman Cain doesn’t want to run for President on the platform of restricting Christians’ free speech rights. The actual trial, the judge noted, would be conducted according to Florida civil law; he was simply assessing whether the arbitration process had been handled properly.

Anyone can make a gaffe, which is how Cain is spinning his “no Muslims” comment. But the more serious problem isn’t that Cain misspoke; it’s that he has taken an extreme, unconstitutional position based on a conspiracy theory that could have been debunked in 30 seconds.

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