The following is co-written by Muslim American, Tufts University student Manal Cheema, and Jewish-American, Brandeis University student Seth Greenwald, in the hopes that our joint struggle and frustrations may lead to effective change.
With the continuous inflammatory statements by GOP presidential candidates regarding the legitimacy of the Muslim population within society, comes a dissolution from the GOP among liberalizing young active voters. Across the board, students, when given the opportunity to interact with members of of differing cultures and ethnicities, become more aware to narrative of others. Thus, as students develop friendships with Muslim and minority students, we look at the statements of presidential hopefuls, hoping only to hear a mirrored sense of compassion or understanding. Unfortunately, the GOP has failed to learn this lesson.
Mr. Priebus, as chairman of the GOP, it is your responsibility to bring your party to new heights, and to be fair you have. Under your tenure, candidates have escalated from statements such as “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States” (Newt Gingrich 2012) to more blatant statements such as “Muslims shouldn’t be President” (Ben Carson 2015). You have further allowed Donald Trump the courtesy to justify his lack of commentary when a conspiracy theorist called President Obama a Muslim. To be sure, Mr. Priebus, President Obama’s private life nor his citizenship should be drawn into question; regardless of what his religion may be, it does not affect his ability to run our nation. Moreover, while it is well-documented that his religion is Christian, calling him a “Muslim” should not be utilized as an insult nor considered a crime. Unfortunately, unless something changes, it is perceived as such, and will continue to be.
Mr. Priebus, you have stood silently, as Mike Huckabee stated that the only group that would have the President’s “undying and unfailing support would be the Muslim community” based upon the President’s decisions regarding the Middle East. Regardless of our feelings towards the President, we both understand that the equation of Islam to the destruction of Israel is false and justifies further instances of hate crimes against Muslims.
Furthermore, our unique backgrounds allow us the ability to speak to both the fear of being attacked based on religious and ethnic heritage as well as the systematic misrepresentation of our communities and our values.
Mr. Chairman, your unwillingness to act, to speak up and change the rhetoric of your party is disgraceful, but you seem unable to understand why it is so problematic. In specific, one of the front-runner GOP candidates, Dr. Ben Carson, has failed to provide an argument as to why a Muslim American should be restricted from their civil right to run for President and to represent their country like any other United States citizen. So, we will do you a favor and explain for you; perhaps, this will help you and your party moving forward to understand the position of American Muslims and of all Americans.
First of all, Islam is as conducive to democracy as any other religion. You can find evidence in concepts in the Quran such as shura (consultation), emphasis on public welfare, ijma (consensus of the community), among others. Furthermore, once taking account of economic determinants, there is no evidence that makes it unlikely for Muslim countries to be democratic (Roberts et al, 2013).
The more relevant conversation is whether the United States could have a Muslim President, and honestly there is no constitutional reason, that you, Mr. Chairman, nor Dr. Carson could provide. The duty of the US President is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and to improve and maintain the lives of the American people. There is nothing inherent in Islam that would prevent any capable, US-born Muslim from carrying that duty out. The reason why religion is so important to voters is because they want a person in office guided by morality, virtue, and have a conception of justice. Can you, or Dr. Carson, honestly argue that the morals needed to run a country are somehow devoid in Islam?
But let’s talk history. When Obama was born, it was the peak of the Civil Rights movement, and to be more exact, the year he was born saw the beginning of the Freedom Rides. At that time, blacks were fighting for the simple chance to vote and none could even fathom that there would ever be a black president. Today, first, second and third graders, are old enough to understand who is the United States President, and young enough to have never seen a white American President. Today, we see two women, black and latino Americans, and a Jew running for President. Yet today, our friends and family will hear that our religions and ethnicity invalidate us of those rights. Whether it be a Zionist conspiracy to control the world, or a Muslim conspiracy to take over the world, our religions and ethnicities seem to play far too great a role in our political legitimacy.
It was said that neither religious nor ethnic minorities should ascend to the Presidency. But, time has shown those who believed in such inequality to be thankfully wrong. History has shown, we can and do move forward to compassion and understanding; we can and do move towards progress.
If we continue to educate and demonstrate that Muslims aren’t what media portrays them to be, that they aren’t characterized by the actions of an undeniably small minority, and we all fight for their representation and support by our government, then, all of us may have a president whose religious views just so happen to be Islam. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not the Catholic candidate for President, he was the Democratic candidate that also happened to be Catholic. Now, he is considered by many one of the greatests presidents we have had.
Furthermore, article 6 of the US Constitution states that, “ all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Even Senator Cruz has made a statement corroborating this, stating that he is a “strict constitutionalist” and it is the right of all citizens, regardless of background to represent their country. Thus, whether one is Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, or otherwise religiously defined, no citizen should ever be convinced that they should not run for President, because it is their right. It is not a privilege based on skin color or religion, it is an American right, written into our Constitution.
It is not a matter of if a Muslim should run or become President, it is a question of when. The United States is a secular state in a name; thus, what is more important is one’s merit and qualifications that allow one to qualify for President of the United States and succeed in a role. Race, economic class, religion, gender creed, and heritage, play no role in one’s merit or abilities when given the opportunity. It is time that we all recognize that.
And, what of Dr. Carson? Unless he radically comes to a new conclusion, Dr. Carson should not become President because he does not value our American brothers and sisters and their rights under the constitution you seek to serve and protect.
Mr. Chairman, as the leader of your party, it is your responsibility to effect change; it is your responsibility to set the stage for the future of the GOP. Without a change in rhetoric, without an acceptance of those you see as different from you, your party has no future. It is not in our interest to vote for a candidate who doesn’t represent the populace, and it doesn’t serve you to divide the nation based on religion. The only people who win, then, are religious extremists. Is that the kind of country you wish to live in? We surely do not.