Muslims and Republicans face mutual distrust

Muslims are yet another group that has a difficult relationship with the GOP. It doesn't have to be that way. Photo: AP

NEW YORK, April 9, 2013 — Anti-Muslim views have often been promoted by Republican law-makers and GOP political operatives. In a recent survey by the Arab American Institute, Republican views toward Arab and Muslim-Americans were viewed with the greatest negativity by an overwhelming majority of those surveyed.

In return, Muslims expressed unfavorable views towards evangelicals, neo-conservatives and the Republican Party.

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Sadly, only a small percentage of Muslims polled had favorable opinions of Republicans following the Bush Presidency. As expected, Democrats were viewed more positively by the Muslim community than Republicans, which highlights some significant parallels between the GOP’s questionable approach towards Islam and anti-GOP sentiment from American-Muslim based groups.

With the nation under the threat by radical Islamic groups, we forget that these groups only include a very small percentage of the millions of Muslim-Americans living in the United States. Surprisingly, it appears that the Republican Party has often decided to stand against anything vaguely “Muslim” in conservative politics. Let’s not forget that many Muslim Americans own businesses, pay their fair share of taxes, tend to be quite accomplished professionally and are often social conservatives, but are still viewed in a negative light.

Perhaps it’s about time that Republicans in Washington recognize that the Muslim community, which widely overlaps the African-American community, could be a long-term ally for the GOP. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States. The problem isn’t that Republicans instinctively dislike Muslims, but that Republicans need to get to know more Muslim-based groups.

Furthermore, it’s questionable whether many Republican lawmakers actually associate with anyone who identifies as Muslim, or has ever met an American Imam. Ultimately, the evangelical right wing of the Republican Party will have to decide whether it wants to find political common ground with American Muslims to erase perceived bias that the GOP is anti-Muslim.

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Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers don’t hate nor oppose Muslim-American groups. The problem is that many lawmakers, solely for political reasons, add rhetorical fuel to the fire of Islam in America as a way to get more votes from their constituencies. They promote exaggerated fears not based on reality, and that perpetuates a growing distrust and anger against Muslim-Americans.

This type of political rhetoric has produced some results for the GOP, but it will ultimately be destructive. The Republican National Committee still has an opportunity to change the tide and perception in the Muslim community by inviting Muslim-Americans to be a part of the GOP, to proactively include representatives of their community to future meetings and conventions. Republicans must show they stand against Islamic extremism and terrorism, but not against Muslim Americans.

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