Now that Republicans realize that the fight over gay marriage is over, they’re pivoting back to the old reliable: Muslims. It’s true that Muslim-bashing among Republicans is hardly new, but I think that as 2016 approaches we’re going to see even more of it as candidates try to outflank one another.
The latest example was LouisianaGovernor’s Bobby Jindal’s speech on Monday in London. Jindal told the audience that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where Muslims have in essence carved out Islamic “autonomous” zones that are ruled by Koranic law and where non-Muslims fear to tread. His point, of course, was to warn Americans that Muslims could try the same thing in the United States.
Now if that concept sounds familiar it’s because last week Fox News served up this same rancid red meat to its viewers. Some Fox News anchors claimed these so-called “no-go zones” existed in parts of France. And Fox News’ terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson even went as far as to say that Birmingham, England, the nation’s second biggest city with more than one million people, was a “totally Muslim city where non-Muslims don’t go in.”
The backlash to these comments was swift. Even British Prime Minster David Cameron responded, “When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot.”
Fox News stirring up fear of Muslims is nothing new. In fact, in my view it’s part of Fox’s business model since its viewers hold the most negative views of Muslims of any cable news audience. Fox is simply giving their viewers what they want to see.
But a few days ago, Fox did something truly shocking. They apologized for making the claims about Muslim-controlled “no-go zones” in Europe. In fact, they apologized not once, but four times, and admitted unequivocally that these “no-go zones” don’t even exist.
Yet even though the Fox retractions occurred days before Jindal delivered his speech, that didn’t stop him from asserting the same baseless claims. After his speech, Jindal was asked by a CNN reporter for specifics on where exactly these “no-go zones “are located. Jindal, in what looked almost like a sketch from Saturday Night Live, hemmed and hawed, finally responding: “I think your viewers know.”
For those unfamiliar with Jindal, he’s no Louie Gohmert. He’s an Ivy League graduate and a Rhodes scholar. Jindal’s remarks were not a mistake, but rather part of a calculated strategy to garner support from more conservative Republicans for an expected2016 presidential run.
Now, in the past, candidates trying to garner support from these right wing voters could use opposition to gay marriage to curry favor. As conservative James Kirchick noted in an article he penned for The Wall Street Journal in 2008, the Republican Party has a long history of its candidates using not just opposition to gay marriage, but also anti-gay rhetoric to attract support from the GOP Base. Kirchick went on to urge Republicans to “kiss gay-bashing goodbye.”
But we still saw this bigotry in the 2012 race. For example, Rick Perry ran a campaign commercial that said you know “there’s something wrong with this country when gays can openly serve in the military.”
Polls, however, now show a majority of Americans support gay marriage. And even the Mike Huckabees of the GOP would have to admit that after the Supreme Court announced Friday that it is considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this term, gay marriage will likely soon be the law of the land. Bottom line: gay marriage will probably be dead as an issue capable of rallying conservative voters.
So what do you do if you are a Republican candidate seeking conservative votes? Simple. Bash Muslims. We are truly an easy target. First, Muslims are a small percentage of our nation’s population at approximately 1 to 2 percent. Second, there are horrible Muslims who do commit terror in the name of our faith, which does offer cover for anti-Muslim bigotry. Third, we still don’t have many allies outside of our community that stand with us.
Sure, we have some interfaith supporters. But when ant-gay comments are made, like in the case of “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Roberson in 2013, the response by the left was swift and united. But with anti-Muslim bigotry, we don’t see that. We see silence from many on the left, including from most Democratic elected officials. And worse, we see some outright anti-Muslim fear mongering by so-called liberals like Bill Maher.
If I’m right, what can we expect to see as the 2016 presidential race heats up? More speeches like Jindal’s designed to stir up fear with no factual support. His remarks were applauded by conservative ++Larry Kudlow in The National Review.
Even more comments like the ones recently made by Oklahoma State Representative John Bennett that Muslims are a “cancer” that must be cut of our country and that Muslim-Americans are not loyal to the United States but to the “constitution of Islam.” Bennett received a standing ovation from the conservative audience that heard these remarks, and the Oklahoma GOP Chair even backed him up.
And possibly even more comments like the one made by newly sworn in member of Congress Jody Hice who stated that Islam is not a religion and doesn’t deserve First Amendment protection. Was there any backlash from GOP leaders to this remarks? Nope, in fact people Red States’ Erick Erickson even spoke at one of his fundraisers and wrote he was “proud to support” Hice.
This is a far cry from the 2008 presidentialrace when John McCain countered anti-Muslim remarks made by a supporter at one of his campaign rallies.
My hope is that I’m wrong. But after seeing close to a thousand people over the weekend protesting a Muslim-American event in Texas that was ironically organized to counter extremism, I’m not so optimistic.
The more conservative parts of the GOP base tend to vote in higher numbers in the primaries. So don’t’ be surprised when you see Republican candidates trying to get their attention with this cut of red meat.