The first Republican Primary debate was a frustrating experience for many American Muslims as there seemed to be silence on issues surrounding our community. The words “Muslims” or “Islam” were only mentioned when candidates discussed acts of terrorism, thereby demonstrating the close-minded perceptions of certain candidates towards our community. There were also a host of xenophobic and targeted remarks made by some about other minority groups, which suggests a degree of bigotry that we should be concerned about.
While this is the first of many debates, we as a community should begin analyzing the shortcomings and strengths of each candidate in an attempt to select the best individual to represent us.
The first mention of “Islam” came early in the debate when Senator Ted Cruz criticized President Obama for not calling extremism in the Middle East “radical Islamic extremism.” He claimed that socio-economic conditions and poor U.S. foreign policy have played no role in the rise of extremist elements; instead, it has been the lack of a sufficient U.S. military deterrent towards the youth who are joining ISIS. This statement was met with signs of agreement from some candidates, demonstrating the popularity of such problematic opinions.
However, any candidate that openly voices this view as their own should draw immediate skepticism from us. First, this is clearly an Islamophobic remark as it denies the suffering of millions of Muslims in the Middle East and claims that most acts of radical terrorism are inspired by Islam. This is clearly scapegoating of our community and should not be accepted as a legitimate viewpoint by any voter. Gone unchecked, this may have a negative impact on the self-perception of young Muslims.
Further, these candidates seem to believe that excessive American force can solve all problems confronting the U.S., demonstrating a flawed view of American power and discounting the importance of diplomacy. It also demonstrates short-sightedness on the part of these candidates, as it ignores the backlash which often follows from military action and misses the more systemic problem that exists in the region.
Another problematic view arose from both Chris Christie and Lindsay Graham when they stated that there needs to be an increase in the scope of government surveillance to monitor potential threats. Graham went as far as to say that he would “monitor a mosque to defeat ISIS.”
This targeted rhetoric displays that these candidates have devalued our right to privacy and are publicly demonizing our community to garner votes from the American public. Unfortunately, these scapegoating tactics are common during the election cycle. It is imperative that we as a community influence these candidates to revise their positions or risk losing the entirety of the American Muslim vote.
Some candidates, such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich, have demonstrated more promising platforms. Kasich did well to hold more liberal views on issues regarding minority rights and universal health care, while still remaining consistent on conservative values. Jeb Bush once again condemned his brother’s decision to invade Iraq and seems to hold more moderate views on issues that may concern our community. While they both still hold questionable views, such as their explicit rejection of the Iran deal, they have stayed away from the fear mongering tactics employed by other candidates.
However, they should do more to voice their opinions on issues concerning our community and push back against the problematic views of other candidates or else they will be seen as being complicit with those positions. The next debate holds great opportunity for both of these candidates to grab the attention of more moderate voters. It would serve them well to not let the opportunity slip away.
The first debate was an eye-opening experience on the shortcomings of the GOP. While shocking and overly rash statements may initially help some candidates to garner more attention, they also serve to isolate wide swathes of voter blocs that will be crucial in the general election. This rhetoric not only marginalizes Muslims; it also serves to undermine the credibility of the United States to lead the world and have a capable leader to address challenges in the 21st century.
We at MPAC hope to see some of these candidates challenge the image of the GOP as an outdated and backwards party in future debates. The first debate failed in that regard.