GOP should accept Muslim-Americans

GOP should accept Muslim-Americans


I never expected to spend the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in the Twin Cities for the Republican National Convention. Many Republicans did not expect a person like me to be there either. From the minute I stepped into the airport in Minneapolis, I met uncomfortable glances in my direction.


The reason? I was a triple minority, being a woman, of Indian descent and (gasp!) a Muslim, one wearing a head scarf, no less.


There is no doubt that the Republican Party needs to reach out to minorities. The number of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians at the convention was embarrassingly low, and the number of Muslims was, well, negligible.


After listening to speeches by Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, it wasn’t difficult for me to understand why.


Romney broke down the world into good and evil, an inflammatory tactic he used in the primaries to make up for his relatively insipid speeches. Evil of course is “radical, violent Jihad” and “radical, violent Islam.” This type of rhetoric, besides offending Muslims, has been questioned by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security.


Giuliani quipped, “Democrats have been afraid to use the words “Islamic terrorism.” Ironically, John McCain did not use any such crude and politically incorrect phrases in his speech at the convention, reminding us that the Republican Party has not always had an invisible anti-Muslim platform, and that there is still a chance for the Republican Party to reach out to Muslims in the future.


Many Muslims were once supporters of McCain and President Bush. I know several Muslims who left the Republican Party for the Democratic Party as the GOP changed its attitude toward Muslims from acceptance to defilement. One of the reasons Bush won his 2000 election was the fact that Muslims rallied to his support in Florida. Of course, since Sept. 11, it has not been the most politically astute thing to reach out to Muslims. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has gone to great lengths to distance himself from Muslims, and his opponents have associated him with Muslims as a political weapon against him.


Nonetheless, Muslims make up a growing and politically active community in America. Perhaps it was fitting that Minneapolis, one of the Twin Cities hosting the Republican convention, is represented by the first Muslim congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was elected even after the post-9/11 difficulties facing Muslims. Understanding will replace fear of Muslim-Americans just as it did for Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Japanese-Americans and Jewish Americans. The Republican Party would be wise to reach out to Muslim-American voters.


Although racial demographics would seem to favor the Democratic Party’s attractiveness to the diverse Muslim community, the Republican Party actually has several advantages in attracting Muslim-American voters. Family values and faith are very important to the Republican voter base just as they are to Muslims. Unfortunately, Republicans have been creating a battle of good and evil between their Christian base and Muslims, from Bush’s “crusade” rhetoric to Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin’s famous statement, “I knew that my God was bigger than his [a Muslim’s].” This divisive rhetoric undermines centuries of Christian-Muslim tolerance that, like any friendship, has had rocky times.


The relationship between the Republican Party and Muslim-Americans is at a low point. Most often, the Muslim-American community gets negative vibes from Republican politicians; at other times, it receives mixed signals.


When asked about a possible future Muslim candidate for president, McCain first indicated that he would prefer only a Christian president, and later he clarified that he “would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values.” I’m not sure which answer was “straight talk” and which was “political correctness,” but the Republican Party would be smart to reach out to the Muslim-American community before such a Muslim candidate arises.


> Nafees Syed, a junior at Harvard University, is editorial editor at the Harvard Crimson. Her family lives in Johns Creek.