On NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson crushed the American Dream – the dream that any American girl or boy born in America could aspire to be president. After watching the first two Republican debates, I was personally crushed – I know so much more than so many of those candidates yet, in spite of all my experience and understanding, I realized that I, a Muslim, can never expect to be your president.
Unlike Dr. Carson, who appears never to have read the Constitution, I’ve read it and know it clearly reads, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” but that seems not to matter, because Dr. Carson, and apparently many others, disagree.
It’s their Constitution, it seems, not everyone’s.
It’s not for Muslims.
I wonder what Carson, whose views are sufficiently controversial that last June he was disinvited from speaking to the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference, and his followers think about Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, atheist and secular humanist Americans. I wonder how enthusiastically Carson supported Mormon Mitt Romney (who repudiated Carson’s anti-Muslim comments) for president.
I wonder how Muslim first responders who died in NYC on 9/11 would feel about Carson and his anti-Muslim supporters. I wonder how Muslim Girl and Boy Scouts and Muslim doctors and nurses today feel about being identified as second-class citizens. I wonder how Muslims who volunteer to take shifts for their Jewish and Christian friends and colleagues on special holidays feel.
A report released by House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King in 2011 revealed that, “At least 6,024 U.S. service members who declared Islam as their faith have served honorably in overseas war deployments since the 9/11 attacks, and 14 Muslim-American troops have been killed in action, all in Iraq, the Pentagon informed the Committee’s Majority Staff. We honor these American heroes, four of whom are buried in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, for making the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation.”
I wonder how they and their families feel.
Many Muslim Americans, indeed most Americans, know that the Constitution must protect all of us if it is to protect any of us.
Many Muslims often put themselves at odds with their own communities by supporting the abolishment of the death penalty and supporting full equal and civil rights for disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities of Americans.
Today, I wonder how they feel.
Today, I wonder who will protect them.
I wonder what Carson and Donald Trump and their supporters would think today if we re-coded their dog-whistles – if we placed the word Christian or Jew wherever the word Muslim appears.
We, especially Muslims, know what we would think.
Today, I’m thankful that Trump and Carson have taken the anti-Muslim positions they have because they publicly reinforce the growing perception that segments of the GOP have become increasingly intolerant and exclusive. Bobby Jindal weighed in on the controversy by saying he could only support a Muslim candidate “who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America” and “place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution,” which I guess disqualifies Rep. Keith Ellison, who took his oath on a Quran – borrowed from the Library of Congress – once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
To Trump, Carson, Jindal and others, being Muslim is reason enough for exclusion, even if the evidence shows clearly that most of the murder and mayhem we endure in America – excluding the 9/11 attacks, which were foreign-generated by al-Qaida – comes not from Muslims, but from non-Muslim, mostly white Americans.
I wonder what Trump, Carson, Jindal and all those with whom such messages of hate and exclusion resonate think when many Jews and Muslims this past week shared blessings and prayers during the timely convergence of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha – the Feast of Sacrifice honoring Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in submission to God’s will.
I wonder what they thought this week when Pope Francis reached out with prayers and condolences for the more than 700 Muslim pilgrims who were tragically killed in a stampede while performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
Trump and Carson are the new public face of a virulent and irrational anti-Muslim bias – a bias ignorantly inspired by the criminal acts of violence and terror committed by jihadists in the name of Islam but not connected to my faith any more than the KKK’s connected to Christianity or Kahane Chai to Judaism – a bias that advances their deliberate marginalization of America’s minority communities.
That Carson, an African-American, should embrace such ignorance speaks to a profound ignorance about even the origins of his own community – an ignorance of the fact that perhaps as many as 20 percent of the slaves brought to this country from Africa were Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity by their masters.
Proving the axiom that even a broken clock is correct twice a day, Ryan Mauro, a well-known Islamophobe, recently wrote, “Aside from being highly offensive to patriotic Muslim-Americans and non-Muslims who care for them, this rhetoric is dangerous. It is a repetition of the Islamist pitch to Muslims that their faith prevents them from being true Americans and that American society is hostile to them. It makes it easier for Islamists and harder for anti-Islamist Muslims and their non-Muslim allies.”
Our Founding Fathers are on record that Islam would be welcome in the public square alongside, for example, Jews, Catholics, Unitarians and Hindus. As recently as the early 20th century, in our own Supreme Court, there was no controversy when a representation of the Prophet Muhammad was carved into an institutional frieze alongside other lawgivers.
Sadly, today I’m not surprised that a party that has written off African-Americans, Hispanics, women, millenials, labor, LGBT people, students and intellectuals has factions that are willing to demonize Muslims. That’s small stuff for a party that has been demonizing our president as Muslim, foreign and Other since 2008 and characterizing him as an embodiment of the Antichrist risen in America.
With such history, it wouldn’t surprise me, to paraphrase Martin Niemoller once again, if someday some American might write: “First, they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim. Then they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out because I was not an immigrant. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the scholars and scientists, and I did not speak out because I was neither a scholar nor a scientist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Sadly, such intolerance and bigotry reflects the identity politics of part of the base of angry white men who have been frightened into ideological submission by GOP candidates who’ve convinced them that today’s politics are a zero-sum game – you can either be aligned with fear, anger and bigotry or you can align with scary minorities and communities of color who want at the very least to disenfranchise you.
The tragedy of today’s Republican Party isn’t that it harbors such anti-Islam rhetoric. The tragedy of this current iteration of the GOP is that it is so disconnected from any humanistic or intellectual impulse that it risks ignominiously sinking into irrelevancy.
In this darkness, I see so little light. Perhaps it is, as Sinclair Lewis wrote in Elmer Gantry, that many of these candidates “got everything from the church and Sunday School except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason.”