Since Sept. 11, inflammatory rhetoric regarding the status of Muslim-Americans in the United States has been an unfortunate aspect of many politicians’ stances and leanings.
Last Sunday night, GOP presidential candidate Dr. Benjamin Carson told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he “… would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” (CNN, “Ben Carson: U.S. shouldn’t elect a Muslim president,” 09.21.2015). Carson continued to argue that Muslim beliefs were incongruent with American value systems, going as far as to say that Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution. The offensive remarks were only further exacerbated when Carson conceded later in the interview that he would be willing to vote for a Muslim running for Congress if “their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation.” While one may be quick to dismiss this as the lunatic ravings of a man completely out of touch with the pluralistic nature of the American population, sentiments such as these have been pervasive throughout comments made by GOP hopefuls.
Democrats and Muslim rights groups quickly denounced Carson’s comments and even some other Republicans distanced themselves from his position. Debbie Wassersman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, slammed Carson and called on him to apologize for his comments while simultaneously upholding the notion that such discriminatory remarks are overtly dangerous and threatening to the political process in a democracy. The Council on American-Islamic Reactions has called for Carson to drop out of the race.
Donald Trump held a rally on Thursday where a man in the audience claimed that “America has a problem. Muslims. President Obama is a Muslim.” (The Washing Post, “Donald Trump Is Now Reaping What He Has Sown,” 09.19.2015). Trump came under fire for not correcting the man, considering that Obama identifies as a Christian. More unnerving than that, Trump did nothing to address the inherent bigotry that laid beneath the surface of the question. Instead, he railed against radical Islam in a subsequent television interview on Fox News later that week, neglecting to condemn the position of the man in question. But these are the words of a political candidate who adamantly pressured the president to prove his U.S. citizenship, after all, so perhaps this reaction isn’t so startling. In the past decade or so, Islamophobia has risen in response to the global climate in terms of terrorism and America’s interventionist policy in the Middle East. Fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of Islam have fueled such ignorance.
However, Islamophobia is not solely present in the statements made by far-right political figures. In the case of Ahmed Mohamed (the young teenager who was arrested and suspended from school for bringing in a homemade clock which presumably resembled a bomb), liberal political pundit Bill Maher supported the idea of questioning the kid, especially considering that “the clock looks exactly like a… bomb” and “It’s been one culture that’s been blowing shit up over and over again.”
It is particularly unnerving when figures who are supposedly on the side of tolerance and understanding stoop to the same racist and discriminatory levels as members on the opposing side. Maher has a particularly unsavory history in regards to his statements about Islam, including support for racial profiling. The most troubling aspect of the rhetoric of seemingly distinct figures such as Ben Carson and Bill Maher is the fact that these individuals are educated and intellectual, both supposedly dedicated to public discourse and the democratic process.
The generalizations and misunderstandings of Islam paved the path for such inflammatory statements. Dr. Carson’s lack of understanding of Constitutional law does not justify his remarks, nor does Maher’s innate inability to separate the actions of extremist individuals from an entire, complex ideology warrant his position. In Carson’s case, his assertions are directly invalidated by the Constitution itself. Article VI of the Constitution clearly affirms that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Carson’s views stand in direct contrast with this concept, especially when his own argument used the Constitution as its basis.
Similarly, Maher’s statements deriding Islam as the cause for the majority of terrorist threats and attacks over the last few decades are unfounded and unjustified. The New America Foundation has found that white, right-wing terrorists have killed twice the amount of people since Sept. 11 as Islamic extremists. The study also concluded that the “criminal justice system judged jihadists more harshly than their non-Muslim counterparts, indicting them more frequently than non-jihadists and handing down longer sentences” (Time Magazine, “Study Says White Extremists Have Killed More Americans in the U.S. Than Jihadists Since 9/11,” 06.24.2015). Maher latched onto Islam as an easy target in the wake of Sept. 11 and the War on Terror, only furthering the dissemination of fear-mongering political rhetoric whose main victims are completely innocent Muslims.
Islamophobia rears its ugly head throughout discussions regarding profiling, terrorism and foreign policy. These assertions are based on an amalgam of fear and racism, which serve to do nothing more than justify discriminatory tendencies that are already an unfortunate cornerstone of modern society. Figures such as Carson and Maher have the responsibility of creating and fostering political dialogue that is conducive to inclusion and plurality, not hatred and ignorance.