Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Muslim moments

Alaa Abdel-Ghani calculates the political cost to Islam after the top two Republican presidential candidates for the American presidency disparaged Muslims

Al-Ahram Weekly

US Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump recently had what was dubbed as their “Muslim moments.” Billionaire businessman Trump failed to correct a supporter who called Muslims in America a “problem” and claimed that President Obama is a Muslim. Retired neurosurgeon Carson said that he would not advocate “that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

In both instances, the candidates were engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry.

Carson hit a chord that, fairly or not, unites many Americans: the belief that a Muslim should not be elected president of the US. “Muslims,” he said, “feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

He doubled down on his remarks in an interview the next day. Whoever wins the presidential election should be “sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Qur’an,” Carson said.

Carson tempered his remarks a bit the following day: “Now, if someone has a Muslim background and they’re willing to reject those tenets and to accept the way of life that we have, and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion, then, of course, they will be considered infidels and heretics, but at least I would then be quite willing to support them.”

Carson’s attempt to tone down his position — saying that he would be open to a moderate Muslim who denounces radical Islam — did not mitigate the damage that had been done.

He was blasted by some of his fellow Republican presidential candidates, was called on to drop out of the race by the leader of the nation’s largest Muslim-American advocacy group, and was slammed by Democratic presidential hopefuls.

But Carson showed no real sign of backing off, and why should he? Fundraising money has been pouring in after his comments regarding Muslims, his campaign has added more than 100,000 new Facebook friends and his favourability ratings in the polls continue to rise.

The truth is that Carson may have stumbled upon an issue that resonates with many Americans. A Gallup poll says that 45 per cent of Americans would not vote for a well-qualified Muslim presidential nominee. So much for Article 6 of the US Constitution that says no religious test shall ever be required of a would-be president.

Like so many Americans, Carson likes to paint all Muslims with the same terrorist brush. The truth is that the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, American Muslims included, are the antithesis of the Islamic State group, Al-Qaida, the Taleban, Boko Haram and all the other bloodthirsty groups.

Does Carson and Co not know that extremist Islamists have killed a thousand times more Muslims than non-Muslims?Attacking Islam only increases Islamophobia, which penetrates deep into America’s psyche, especially every 11 September. Americans need to differentiate between the good Muslims and the bad ones.

They need to attack the radicals and undermine the radicalism. Supporting the good within Islam and Muslims who seek peace and moderation is part of an effective strategy to defeat radical ideologies, which the vast majority of Muslims oppose. Lumping them all together is as unfair as it is ignorant.

Speaking of ignorance, Carson’s implication that Islam would somehow be the wrong guiding light for a Muslim president is like saying that if a Catholic wants to run for president he needs to renounce ties with the Vatican, something which John Kennedy, who became America’s first Catholic president, did not do.

From a purely political perspective, Carson’s opinion threatens to alienate Muslims who are eligible to vote. In 2014, there were 6.67 million Muslims in the US, making up 2.11 per cent of the American population. That might be a drop in the ocean but it should be noted that African Americans (of which Carson is a member) who are Muslim make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam over the last 70 years.

African-Americans are also a minority in the US and so one would have thought that minorities — African-Americans and American Muslims — would stick together, seeing that minorities always feel vulnerable and find strength in unity.

Carson, an evangelical Christian, is also of strong faith, and people who are religious tend to embrace all religions, not just their own. However, in these days of militant Islam, a time when an entire religion is under fire for the actions of a violent few, many Americans agree with the good doctor that a Muslim cannot be seated behind the Oval Office desk.

Trump, on the other hand, was roundly criticized for something he did not say, an oddity for this real estate mogul/loudmouth. He failed to correct a man who asserted during a recent campaign event that Muslims are the problem in America, and that President Obama is a non-American and a Muslim, rather than an American-born Christian.

Once again, the ignorance of many Americans is showing, embarrassingly. Recent polls have found that 43 to 54 per cent of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim. There’s nothing wrong with being called a Muslim, except that in this case Obama is Christian and is American, as his birth certificate proved to the birther movement, of which Trump was the driving force a few years ago.

To be president of a country, one must lead by example and, as such, Trump should have taken his supporter to task for saying Obama is not American and that Muslims are a problem in the US.

But Trump apparently wanted to avoid the same fate that befell John McCain when he interrupted a woman speaking at a town hall who said Obama was an Arab. McCain lost a lot of supporters in his 2008 bid for the presidency because of that correction. Trump obviously did not want to make the same mistake.

Just to show Arabs just can’t win in US presidential campaigns, even if we applaud McCain for setting the record straight, his reply — “No ma’am, Obama is a decent family man” — implied that Arabs do not make good family men.

Trump has since done his famed Trump U-turn. “I love the Muslims,’’ he said, adding that he’d consider running with one as his vice presidential candidate or naming a Muslim to his cabinet.

However, Trump knows a good thing when he sees it. It’s called racism and the votes that come with it. He plays to the paranoid and ignorant. Just give them a villain to hate, and they’ll be your friends for life.

Trump is currently the front-runner candidate of a crowded 15 Republican Party field; Carson is in second. On the campaign trail they have said, or did not say, some things that reveal something not just about them but about their country.

Both are resorting to fear mongering to benefit their campaigns. They are striving to appeal to an electorate that is frightened of Muslims and Islam, want nothing to do with either and want their future president to bash both right out of the political field.

So far, Trump and Carson are doing a great job.


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