Last Tuesday’s GOP debates were all about Muslims. The word “Islam” or derivations of it like “Islamic” were mentioned 27 times in the primetime debate and 31 times during the earlier “kid’s table” debate. If you had played a drinking game where you had to do a shot of whiskey every time the word “Islam” was uttered during those GOP debates, you would’ve been dead about 30 minutes in.
And the discussion about Islam during the two debates went from bad to ugly to Trump. It was like a UFC cage match with the Republican candidates taking turns bashing Muslims. (Only Lindsey Graham pushed back, noting that 3,500 Muslim Americans are proudly serving in our military.)
But the one thing missing in this Muslim-a-thon was a real-life Muslim on the stage. Yes, it would’ve been great to see a Muslim GOP presidential candidate, but who are we kidding? We are talking the Republican Party, where less than 50 percent even think Islam should be legal in the United States. It’s more likely a black man will be elected grand wizard of the Klan than a Muslim American will get the GOP nomination for any office.
What I really mean is that there needs to be a Muslim American as a moderator or at least as a panelist to ask a few questions during the debates. I’m sure some are asking why does it matter if a Muslim is on the panel? There are a few reasons.
First, there’s the substantive angle. The debates are intended to inform voters about how well versed candidates are on these types of key issues. So why wouldn’t you want an actual Muslim to ask follow-up questions when a candidate makes outlandish assertions about Islam, especially as it relates to ISIS or the radicalization of Muslims?
For example, there’s a great deal of talk by the GOP candidates about Islamic terms like “sharia” and “jihad.” Most of what they say is wildly wrong or at least incomplete. And frankly I get the sense that the moderators truly don’t know what that these terms mean to Muslims so they never ask follow-up questions challenging the candidates. In contrast, a Muslim moderator would be well positioned to challenge misinformation so that voters can have a better understanding of what the terms mean and which candidates get it and which don’t.
Another example of where a Muslim questioner would be helpful happened during the early debate on Tuesday when Rick Santorum claimed that Islam is not a religion but a political movement and as such the idea that Islam “is protected under the First Amendment is wrong.”
Yes, I know that I’m actually running ahead of Santorum in the GOP polls, but a Muslim questioner would have been able to challenge the ridiculousness of the assertion that one of the three Abrahamic faiths is not entitled to First Amendment protection. And perhaps have also pointed out the irony of Santorum’s claim that Islam is a political movement when he has declared that U.S. laws must “comport” with the Bible.
Plus, think of the drama that a Muslim moderator would add. What do I mean? Well, it’s one thing for Trump to say he wants warrantless surveillance of Muslim Americans to a non-Muslim moderator.
It’s quite another to say those things to the face of a Muslim American like a Fareed Zakaria or a person like Suhail Khan, who served in George W. Bush’s administration and is a prominent member of the GOP. How much more drama do you need than a Muslim American asking Trump why should his or her children have fewer rights because someone else who happens to share their faith has committed a horrible act? Would Trump temper his remarks about Muslims when confronted on national TV with a question framed in more personal and human terms? Maybe, maybe not, but it would be great TV.
At the very least a Muslim American should be part of the pre- and post-debate coverage. Most cable networks (except Fox News) would never have a discussion about Black Lives Matters without an African American involved or a discussion on immigration without a Latino American voice being included.
The same rules should apply concerning discussions that focus on Muslims and Islam as we are seeing in these debates. After all, how can you truly understand how Muslims could become radicalized if no one in the discussion actually has a real-life understanding of Islam and being a Muslim in the West?
With the fight against ISIS and preventing radicalization of Muslims being a key issue in their 2016 race, don’t you want to know which presidential candidates possess a detailed understanding of the issues in play? If you do, then a Muslim-American moderator of a presidential debate will go a long way into seeing that you know who truly understands these issues and who is just regurgitating focus group tested talking points.