Romney Campaign's Ugly Anti-Muslim Strategy to Win Cash and Votes
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The political debate over Islam in the United States reached its height during the Republican presidential primaries last year when Herman Cain's Islamophobic remarks drew controversy.
“I would not be comfortable [appointing a Muslim to the presidential cabinet] because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us,” Cain said during a debate in New Hampshire. “So when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones who are trying to kill us.”
Mitt Romney fired back at Cain and seemingly defended Muslims: “We recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance.”
Fast-forward a year later, and things have changed. Cain is no longer in the race, and Romney has gone from defending Muslims to courting anti-Muslim bigots on the right in his bid to win the presidency.
While not actively voicing anti-Muslim sentiment on the stump , Romney is clearly pandering to Islamophobes in the U.S. And there's a very simple reason why: the Romney campaign is banking on subtly appealing to the Republican Party's base of anti-Muslim voters, as well as donors like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile, the alarming spate of attacks on Muslim religious centers continues—and no politician is stepping up to combat the toxic Islamophobia.
Romney “needs to find ways to attract the far right that would have preferred a more right-wing candidate,” Deepa Kumar, author of the recently released Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, told AlterNet via email. “Most of the GOP presidential candidates used Islamophobia during the primaries because appeals to racism have always been useful for the GOP. Anti-Muslim racism comes with an added bonus in that it helps position one as being 'tough on terror.'” Kumar calls the GOP tactic of appealing to anti-Muslim sentiment the Republican Party's " new Southern Strategy," referring to the tactic of appealing to anti-black racism among white voters in the South.
Recent weeks have seen a number of examples that point to this anti-Muslim political strategy. In early August, Romney held a private dinner with key figures on the Christian right, like Gary Bauer and James Dobson. The meeting also included retired Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin, a notorious anti-Muslim activist and the executive vice president of the right-wing Christian group Family Research Council. As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald reported, Boykin earned a rebuke from President George W. Bush after Boykin, in uniform, proclaimed that Islam's God was “an idol,” the Christian God “was bigger,” and cast the “war on terror” in religious terms. Since retiring from military service, Boykin's rhetoric against Muslims has only grown more extreme. He has said that Islam “ should not be protected under the First Amendment” and that “there should be no mosques in America.”
Bauer, too, is no stranger to stoking Islamophobia. In 2010, to loud cheers at the Values Voter summit, Bauer said: “Islamic culture ... keeps hundreds of millions of people on the verge of violence and mayhem 24 hours a day.” Romney is courting these figures in a bid to motivate the Christian evangelical base, many of whom agree with Bauer and Boykin on Islam and see the U.S. and Israel as waging holy war to defend “Judeo-Christian civilization.”
The day after the meeting with Bauer, Boykin and Dobson, a reporter asked Romney for his thoughts on Michele Bachmann's McCarthyist campaign alleging Muslim Brotherhood infiltration in the US government. Since June, Bachmann (R-MN) and several of her Republican colleagues have led a baseless campaign alleging that figures in the Obama administration, most prominently Huma Abedin (an aide to Hillary Clinton), had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The genesis of this idea can be found in Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official and leading anti-Muslim activist who recently produced a 10-part series on the “Muslim Brotherhood in America.” The fear-mongering over the Muslim Brotherhood is part of a common trope often heard on the Islamophobic right: that Muslim organizations have ties to “extremist” groups in the Middle East and are secretly plotting to take over the US and impose “sharia law.”