Islamophobia and the future of elections in the US
|Protesters march in the “Rally Against War, Racism & Islamophobia” to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2011.(PHOTO reuters, CHIP EASTkahvecı)|
|A recent report by the Center for American Progress titled “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” exposed a network of a small group spending millions of dollars to spread hate against Muslims and Islam in the United States.|
|With the efforts of this network and some radical elements in American society, there is an increasingly negative approach to Muslims in the US.
In this public crusade, marginal conservative groups lead the way. During an election season, these marginal groups play an important role and affect the rhetoric of politicians. Republican candidates in particular seem to be affected the most. For instance, Herman Cain stated in an interview in March that he “will not” appoint any Muslims in his cabinet if he were elected president. Although four months later he apologized, later in a recent interview Cain claimed that “a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.”
In March, Republican Congressman Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, scheduled hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” and he invited so-called experts from the Islamophobia network to testify. Representative King’s efforts raised criticism for “indulging an Islamophobic fixation and casting collective guilt and aspersions on the entire Muslim American community.” King is also known for his anti-Muslim statements.
As recently as last Veterans Day, Republican State Representative Rick Womick from Tennessee, a local politician from Murfreesboro, stated in a meeting with a small local group of around 150 people that the US cannot have Muslims in the military because it cannot trust them. He also said that “if they are devout Muslims and follow the Quran and the Sunnah, then I feel threatened because they are commanded to kill me.”
Anti-Muslim rhetoric pleases a small number of marginal motivated populations in the Republican Party. However, it has a downside, too. Although, American politics is less based on party affiliations compared to European politics, parties still do matter.
When Muslim Americans see anti-Muslim rhetoric voiced mainly by Republican circles, they usually interpret this as there being an overarching anti-Muslim policy in the Republican Party. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this has been the case. Starting with former President George W. Bush, even right after 9/11, high-ranking members of the Republican Party stood against anti-Muslim sentiments. During his presidency, President Bush visited mosques and denounced prejudice against Muslim Americans. In his statements, Bush always made a distinction between a small group of radical extremists and the general peaceful population. In 2002, President Bush said: “All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true faith — face of Islam. Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. It’s a faith that has made brothers and sisters of every race. It’s a faith based upon love, not hate.” In a visit to the Washington Islamic Center in 2007, he even encouraged Americans to help Muslims rescue Islam. He said, “We must help millions of Muslims as they rescue a proud and historic religion from murderers and beheaders who seek to soil the name of Islam.” However, currently, such voices from the Republican Party are absent.
Muslims closer to Republicans on social issues
American Muslims are generally traditional, and conservative on social issues. They would stand closer to Republicans than Democrats on issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and free enterprise. Although Muslim Americans are also mainly first or second-generation immigrants and a minority, they do not represent a minority demographic. They are mainly middle-class professionals or small business owners.
According to polls conducted after the 2000 presidential election, close to 80 percent of American Muslims voted for Republican candidate George W. Bush.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) estimates the total population of Muslims in America at 7 million. However, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2010 the total population of Muslims in America was 2.6 million. This huge difference between numbers might be due to citizenship. On the other hand, more and more Muslims are becoming citizens, and more people are converting to Islam. Therefore, an increasing number of Muslims are becoming eligible to vote in the United States.
Although their number is increasing, this big number of voters is not yet organized politically, and not many Muslims are participating in political races. In 2006, Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) became the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress. In 2008, André D. Carson (D-Indiana) joined Ellison and became the second Muslim congressman. Across the United States, dozens of Muslims are actively engaging in the American political process, running for elected office. At the local level especially, the number of Muslims in political office is increasing; examples include a mayor in New Jersey, and state representatives in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maryland and Missouri. Although there are some Republicans, most of these politicians are running for office under the Democratic Party.
American Muslims come from very different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but anti-Muslim rhetoric in the American press and the political sphere unites them. Although there are non-Muslim political office holders who defend Muslims against bigotry, it is natural that some Muslim political leadership will arise in the population and align with a party and defend Muslims against anti-Muslim sentiment. There are also signs of this. During a hearing into the possible radicalization of Muslims in America, sponsored by Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, Congressman Ellison stated that “we’ve seen the consequences of anti-Muslim hate,” and encouraged other Muslims to engage in civics.
This anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from marginal Republican circles, and a lack of balancing voices in the party, will eventually push Muslim voters to the Democratic Party. New Muslim political leadership will align itself with the Democratic Party, which is already taking place. If the anti-Muslim sentiments continue or even increase, new Muslim voters will be politically active, and will engage in elections more than usual. Due to a lack of turnout in American elections, this politically motivated population will become even more important.
Therefore, even the American politicians are less concerned with their party’s overall success and focus on their personal seats; they will also be affected by this transformation. Anti-Muslim rhetoric stemming from marginal circles in the Republican Party, first, motivates these new-coming voters to become politically active, and second, pushes them to align with the Democratic Party. In other words, these radical circles within the Republican Party push a conservative population to vote for the Democratic Party. Considering the increasing number of Muslims in America, and assuming that they would become more politically involved, these anti-Muslim sentiments may considerably affect the future of elections in the United States.
*Doğan Koç is a political researcher and holds a Ph.D. in political science.