I’m baffled by why the GOP continues to demonize and alienate Muslim Americans given that they could be making inroads with the community. As Suhail Khan, a Muslim-American Republican who served in the Bush administration, explained when he recently appeared on my SiriusXM radio show, many Muslims would be a perfect fit for the GOP.
Khan is right. Muslim Americans are now climbing in economic status and numbers. In 2007, only 13 percent of Muslim Americans earned over $100,000, but that number has now climbed to over 20 percent, eclipsing the average in the United States. Many of those people will, of course, support lower taxes and smaller government.
And the number of well off Muslim Americans will likely rise quickly in the near future considering 39 percent of Muslim Americans have college degrees, which is well above the national average of 27 percent. Plus Muslims cherish another issue championed by the right: religious liberty. (But in the truest sense, not as a ruse to discriminate against people.)
But the extreme voices within continue to drive Muslims away. At this point I can only assume that Republican leaders want to build a coalition for the 2016 race composed primarily of angry white Christian men.
This, however, is truly a losing strategy. Even Senator Lindsey Graham candidly warned back in 2012 that the GOP is losing the demographic battle because “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” But so far the 2016 race has shown us more of the same from his fellow Republicans—horrible comments about Latinos, extreme positions on women, and now more hate towards Muslims.
What is surprising is that I honestly thought the GOP would be more embracing, even to Muslims, in 2016. My optimism was buttressed a few months ago after Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal regurgitated a wholly fabricated claim by Fox News that there were Muslim “no go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims fear to tread and he warned that American Muslims would soon do the same here.
This claim was so preposterous that Fox News apologized not once but four times on air after one of their regular guests offered such a baseless assertion. After those remarks, Jindal didn’t move up on the polls. (Technically I may be running ahead of Jindal right now.) And when I didn’t hear leading Republican presidential candidates spew anti-Muslim bigotry, I thought things were truly changing.
But I was wrong. First a few weeks ago we heard, during the “kid’s table” GOP debate, both Lindsey Graham and George Pataki call for monitoring mosques in America.
And now Carly Fiorina is being attacked by some on the right for saying nice things about Muslims. (Unreal, I know.) Fiorina’s comments weren’t even recent: She made them 14 years ago, in the weeks after 9/11, while she was the CEO of Hewlett Packard.
At that time we had just witnessed a spike in anti-Arab and anti Muslim hate crimes. A Sikh man wearing a turban was even killed in Arizona simply because he appeared to be a Muslim. So Fiorina spoke to her diverse group of employees expressing concern for the safety of her Middle Eastern and Muslims colleagues. She also mentioned the contributions that Islam and Arabs had made throughout history, with comments like, “The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.”
This is not much different from what we heard form President George W. Bush in the weeks after 9/11. But it was simply too much for Michele Bachmann and others on the right. How dare anyone show compassion for Muslims! So on Sunday Bachmann shared with her 240,000 Twitter followers an article attacking Fiorina for having the audacity to praise Muslims.
The article’s author, Bethany Blankley (a Bachmann wannabe), takes issue with the concept that Muslims ever contributed anything to the world. I hope Blankley doesn’t like coffee or ever have to use a hospital, both Muslim inventions.
She further claimed that Fiorina’s comments were “offensive” and angrily suggested: “Perhaps [Fiorina] she should move to Saudi Arabia where women are prohibited from driving; or Iran, where women are prohibited from working.”
Now Blankley is correct that, out of the 57 Muslim-majority nations, Saudi Arabia is the only one that bans women from driving—proving this is a Saudi issue, not one based on Islam. But she’s wrong about women in Iran. A quick Google search reveals that women in Iran are highly educated and hold jobs in both the government and in the private sector in a range of professions from doctors to teachers. (Although work on gender equality is very much needed in Iran.)
Other conservative outlets, like The American Thinker, also chided Fiorina. This is no different than in past generations when progressive politicians were demonized as “Negro lovers” for championing equal rights for black Americans.
It’s all in keeping with a theme of Republican attacks on minorities and women this cycle. Most on the right remained silent when Donald Trump called Mexicans “rapists.” They didn’t speak out when Scott Walker and Marco Rubio advocated that women raped must carry the rapist’s baby to term. And they didn’t say a peep when Mike Huckabee stated over the weekend that a 10-year-old girl who was raped should be forced to carry the rapist’s baby until birth.
And praising Muslims—even 14 years ago —is simply too much for the right-wing fringe. Of course, we’re unlikely to hear other Republican candidates defending Fiorina or condemning the attacks.
Apparently the GOP can’t get out of its own way. The 2016 election has been another parade of appeals to angry white men at the expense of women and minorities. We saw how well that worked for them in 2008 and 2012. Given the changing demographics in America, it should be even worse for them in 2016.