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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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February 5, 2012

Anti-Muslim rhetoric by the Republican
 presidential hopefuls

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

In the post-9/11 America, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate has become commonplace and increasingly acceptable in political and civic discourse. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric or Islamophobia is no longer questioned, even by our elected representatives.

During 2011 there was phenomenal rise in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric particularly by the Republican Party politicians. As the 2012 election nears, some Republican presidential hopefuls and congressional candidates have clearly opted to try to win votes by denigrating Islam and disparaging Muslims.

To borrow Wilfredo Amr Ruiz of Huffington Post, 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. Herman Cain abandoned his White House ambitions in December after a string of accusations of sexual misconduct.

Rick Santorum, another presidential hopeful, has joined Cain’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.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, another presidential aspirant said: “not all cultures are equal, not all values are equal, letting it be known that she thought that people of the Muslim faith had an inferior culture to that of the United States and the West.”

To the dismay of seven-million strong American Muslim community, another Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, appointed Dr. Walid Phares, the author of  “Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America,” foreign policy adviser to his team. To his credentials, Phares also worked as an official in the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, and other militias that reportedly took part in various massacres of Muslims.

Not surprisingly, the stance on issues related to Islam and American Muslims of another presidential contender and former house speaker, Newt Gingrich, has also been scornful. Falling victim to the Muslim hysteria on the debate on the Park51 project, popularly known as Ground Zero Mosque, in August 2010, Gingrich compared the Islamic Community Center project to building a Nazi monument outside the Holocaust Museum. He also said: “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”

Gingrich once suggested that the right of Muslims to build mosques should be infringed upon by the U.S. government until Christians are permitted to build churches in Saudi Arabia, a straightforward suggestion that we violate the Constitution in order to mimic authoritarians. He favors a federal law that would preempt sharia--although not the religious law of any other faith--from being used in American courts, which would be the solution to a total non-problem.

Continuing his tirade against Muslims, Gingrich told a town hall gathering in South Carolina on Jan.17, that he would only support a Muslim for the presidency if that person would "commit in public to give up Sharia."  At the town hall meeting in West Columbia, S.C., a man asked:  "Would you endorse...a Muslim-American, [who] could possibly be running for president, given that we had a woman running for president in Hillary Clinton, and we had a Jewish-American, in Joe Lieberman, running for vice president?" A truly modern person who happened to worship Allah would not be a threat, Gingrich replied but added:  "A person who belonged to any kind of belief in Sharia, any kind of effort to impose that on the rest of us, would be a mortal threat." According to Huffington Post, in the past, Gingrich has repeatedly decried Sharia, a legal code derived from Islam, and called for a federal law to pre-emptively bar its use in any U.S. courts. He didn't soften his position on Jan 17, saying his support would be contingent on a candidate's willingness to denounce Sharia.

Federal court deals blow to “anti-Muslim” bigots

Tellingly, in a major blow to the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigots taking refuge behind the so-called anti-Sharia legislation, a federal appeals court on January 10, 2012 agreed with a lower court that blocked an Oklahoma law that would have barred state courts from considering or using Shariah law.

In the November 2010 election, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly for referendum SQ 755 -- described by its author, Rep. Rex Duncan, as "a preemptive strike against Sharia Law coming to Oklahoma." The constitutional amendment stated that: "The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law."

Since the November 2010 Oklahoma ‘anti-Sharia’ law similar bills were introduced in around 20 states nationwide. The bills were patterned on a template produced by leading Islamophobe David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew, who founded an organization in 2006 with the acronym SANE (the Society of Americans for National Existence) with the aim of banishing Islam from the US. He proposed a law that would make adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. In February 2011 Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron and Representative Judd Matheny (both Republicans) had introduced similar bills to make it illegal to follow Islamic moral code which includes religious practices like feet-washing and prayers.

The new Oklahoma law — which was widely considered as unfairly targeting the Muslim community and blaming it for the non-existent threat of Sharia law in the United states — was challenged by Oklahoma resident Muneer Awad, a Muslim. In his law suit Awad charged that the law violated his First Amendment rights. In addition to stigmatizing him and other Muslims, Awad argued, the amendment would invalidate his last will and testament, which made reference to Islamic writings.

Federal judge in Oklahoma, Vicki Miles-LaGrange, agreed that the amendment was most likely unconstitutional and granted a permanent injunction preventing its implementation until a final determination could be made. The judge argued that the Sharia ban was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and unfairly singled out Muslims.

Attack on minorities and civil rights

Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry has gone largely ignored both in the mainstream press and the conservatives. Gingrich and other presidential candidates and public office aspirants are playing on majority anxieties about terrorism and xenophobia toward Muslims which is particularly dangerous in the civil-liberties climate produced in the post-9/11 era where American citizens can be deprived of their liberty and even their life without charges or due process.

Prof. Gary Orfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project wrote in May 2003: “The loss of civil rights often begins with the reduction of rights in a time of crisis, for a minority that has become the scapegoat for a problem facing the nation. The situation can become particularly explosive in a time of national tragedy or war. But when civil rights for one group of Americans are threatened and the disappearance of those rights is accepted, it becomes a potential threat to many others.” 

Prof. Orfield wrote this while commenting on the plight of Arabs and Muslims who were the immediate target of Patriot Act provisions and other legislations in the aftermath of 9/11. However his prediction proved correct about the erosion of civil rights of all citizens. In the last ten years we have seen a steady erosion of the fundamental rights and civil liberties, all in the name of national security.

The gradual erosion of our civil liberties came in the shape of Warrantless Wiretapping, abuse of the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS), the Real ID Act, the Military Commissions Act, No Fly and Selectee Lists, Abuse of Material Witness Statute, Attacks on Academic Freedom and monitoring peaceful groups.

The so-called War on Terror has seriously compromised the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. From the USA PATRIOT Act’s over-broad definition of domestic terrorism, to the FBI’s new powers of search and surveillance, to the indefinite detention of both citizens and non-citizens without formal charges, the principles of free speech, due process, and equal protection under the law have been seriously undermined.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.