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The Fear-Mongers: GOP Presidential Contenders Stoke Up Islamophobia in Bid for Tea Party Votes

Islamophobia has exploded onto the political scene as anti-Muslim pundits and activists gain traction in the conservative mainstream.

Once relegated to the right-wing fringe, Islamophobia has exploded onto the political scene as anti-Muslim pundits and activists gain traction in the conservative mainstream. Lawmakers and activists are now targeting anything affiliated with Muslims -- be it a charity, a teacher, or a mosque. GOP politicians like former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich are fear-mongering over perceived dangers within the American Muslim community to pander to the conservative extremes. But this weekend at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain introduced an unprecedented level of bigotry into the GOP platform by declaring he would never appoint a Muslim to his administration.

Cain's anti-Muslim views sparked considerable outrage, but Cain remains unphased. " I does not care; I feel the way I feel," he rationalized. Regardless of how he may feel, his anti-Muslim sentiment does not attract public support. Americans still support the religious freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and believe they should be applied to all, including Muslims. As President George Washington noted in 1790, the United States " gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens."  

The Muslim Touch

Right-wing activists have spouted their anti-Muslim bigotry in a host of venues, including state bills that tackle the phantom menace of Sharia law, or public hearings on " Radicalization in the American Muslim Community." Last month, the local chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America held a fundraiser in Orange County, Calif., to raise money for a women's shelter and for homeless services in Southern California. Hundreds of jeering protesters harassed the families as they entered the building, screaming " Go back home!" and, "You beat up your wife too? Are you a molester?"

Rather than denouncing the blatant hatred, three GOP legislators attended the rally to offer their support. GOP Councilwoman Deborah Pauly called the fundraiser "pure, unadulterated evil," adding, "I know quite a few Marines who will be willing to help these terrorists to an early meeting in Paradise."

Last week, the Department of Justice filed a civil rights suit on behalf of a Muslim math teacher who was denied a request to take three weeks off for pilgrimage. A former DOJ official in the Bush administration called the move " a political lawsuit to placate Muslims" -- sparking  right-wing activists like Pamela Geller to attack a Muslim teacher and the DOJ as "Islamic supremacists  seeking to impose Islam on the public square."

But mosques have ignited the greatest backlash across the country. While Park 51 in New York City has grabbed the most headlines, the planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has spawned the most vitriolic campaign -- resulting in  slander, harassment, and vandalism. This weekend, CNN's Soledad O'Brien highlighted a nine-day hearing in Murfreesboro where an anti-Islamic lawyer, Joe Branden, mounted an increasingly popular defense that " Islam is not a religion."

"Do you believe Allah and God is the same?" Branden asked, adding, "Why would we extend to any religion the right to cancel out the Constitution for which we're founded upon?"  Of the 23 witnesses he called to testify, not one of them was from the Murfreesboro Muslim community.  

Cain-streaming Hate

Rather than standing up to this un-American behavior, many GOP politicians are exploiting it for political gain. Weighing in on the Islamic Center in New York City, Gingrich parroted the right-wing fringe in declaring the Muslims behind the center are " radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists." Speaking at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa this weekend, Gingrich called the DOJ defense of the Muslim teacher " an absurdity ."