The Republican debate of June 13th moderated by John King of CNN was generally a collegial affair. It was essentially a “Knock Obama” rally, with understated minor differences among the candidates.
Except, when CNN moderator John King asked former Godfather Pizza magnate, Harman Cain, “You recently said you would not appoint a Muslim to your cabinet and you kind of backed off a little bit and said you would first want to know if they’re committed to the Constitution. You expressed concern that, quote, “a lot of Muslims are not totally dedicated to this country.” Are American-Muslims as a group less committed to the Constitution than, say, Christians or Jews?”
Cain backpedaled a bit and said,” I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one. Secondly, yes, I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period. There have been instances –””
John King turned to other candidates and asked their views on the subject. Some candidates were uncomfortable, but not former speaker of the House,
Newt Gingrich. Trying to resuscitate his dying campaign, stridently he said, “Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period.” He added “We did this–”we did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists. And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.”
For those who do not remember, Gingrich was approvingly referring to the Red baiting campaign in early 1950s by the Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. It has been widely condemned and it lives in infamy as McCarthyism.
Yes, a few Muslim citizens have engaged in terrorism against the US, but an overwhelming majority of Muslims are productive and loyal citizens. It is no secret that Muslim bashing is popular among some in the Republican Party. They conveniently forget that some of the plots were thwarted by Muslims contacting the police.
Sadly not one candidate on the podium admonished Cain and Gingrich, as they would have, if such a sweeping statement was made to malign other minorities such as Jews or Blacks. Even sadder yet, it did not elicit much comment in the popular media either.
Not too long ago some Republicans did stand up to challenge such remarks, but the party has changed.
In 2007 Republican debates, while others remained quiet, John McCain condemned Mitt Romney’s remark that he will not appoint any Muslim to his cabinet. McCain said, “I’m proud of the Muslims who are currently serving in the United States armed forces and my sense is that if they can serve in that manner, they can serve in any position of responsibility in America.”
In December 2002, an intemperate remark by Senator Trent Lott cost him the leadership of the Republican Party in the Senate. Celebrating the 100th birthday of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, Senator Trent Lott, the Republican leader in the Senate said, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”
Those remarks were construed as racist, because in 1948 Strom Thurmond broke with the Democratic Party on the issue of enforcement of civil rights legislation and ran for the Presidency as a State’s Rights Party candidate.
The US Constitution is secular. Thankfully our laws are not based on religious preference. Although when not in conflict with the civil laws, in some jurisdictions it has accommodated people, who by mutual agreement wanted their personal disputes settled by arbitration by religious tribunal. Courts have enforced the result of such arbitration in case of Jewish, Mormon and other religions as in contract law.
The spurious injection of Sharia in the debate is a “Red Herring” to divert attention and garner cheap popularity from the considerable weight of the xenophobic wing of the Republican Party. There is no monolithic Sharia law. These laws were developed by different schools of thoughts in the 9th century to check the creeping autocracy of the rulers. They are open to debate, and have evolved on diverse lines through the ages.
The irony is that most right-wing Republicans are opposed to the idea of separation of “Church and State” notwithstanding the first amendment. That is why Rev. Pat Robertson found so much traction in the Republican primaries in the 1980s. Rev. Charles Kimball writes in his book, “When Religion Becomes Lethal ” that Ralph Reed, the head of the Christian Coalition, famously referred to the practice of running “stealth candidates” where the radical agenda would be hidden from voters by focusing on hot button issues such as abortion or homosexuality. By the time the voters knew what victorious candidate really advocated, they would not know what hit them.
Some of the 2012 Republican aspirants are not much different. Some want the United States to be under the Biblical laws, while others in an effort to dupe them are stealthily raising a bogus threat from the Sharia laws. To protect all, multi-religious as well as irreligious citizens, would it not be better to, honestly adhere to the principle of “Separation of Church and State”, no lying, no ifs and no buts?
Instead of the loyalty test for ordinary law abiding citizens of any faith or no faith, the electorate should reject stealth candidates whose support the US Constitution is dubious. If elected they would have to take the oath of office with fingers crossed.