“There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime,” MSNBC quotes Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz as saying. “Did we ever imagine that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we would be witnessing our government persecute its citizens for their faith?”
On Tuesday I awoke to the horrible news of an attack in Brussels. My heart goes out to the victims of the attack, just as it did last week for the victims of attacks in Ankara and Istanbul. The coverage overshadowed everything else in the news, except one: politicizing tragedy. As news poured in, so did statements by politicians. Among this cacophony of condemnation was a particularly odd call to action from Texas state senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Senator Cruz is a well-known figure here in Texas. He served as solicitor general in the state longer than any other. His stance as a U.S. senator against NSA wiretapping is admirable and I commend him for it.
A few months ago, friends of the Cruz family contacted me to meet with the campaign. As a leader in the Houston Muslim community, they asked if I would be open to meeting with the Cruz's and some of his campaign managers to discuss Islam. While I may disagree with Senator Cruz on many issues, I am open to speaking to anyone looking to educate himself on the dynamics of the Muslim community. A date was set and along with a diverse group of Muslims including lawyers, local Republican Party reps, educators, physicians and business people, we met for coffee.
We spent a very long evening speaking about Islam, Muslim community demographics, Shariah law and what it means to Muslims, and—most importantly to them—how the Cruz campaign can approach the Muslim community while also dispelling some of the incendiary accusations made against the community. As one attendee from the campaign who will remain nameless indicated, these accusations, although false, are so prevalent among the evangelical base Cruz is targeting that they must pander to them, finessing their way past them into the primary and the nomination.
During the conversation, I stressed that if Senator Cruz wants to garner Muslim support, he simply needs to adhere to the strict constitutionalism he espouses. That constitutionalism, one that defends religious liberty for all, is what Muslims are seeking. We don’t need a politician who will tell us how wonderful we are, who agrees with our faith or even likes us. We do need a candidate who will protect our religious freedom. We will not just be tolerated; we will be accepted. Like all Americans, we defer to the laws of the United States.
For many there that evening, the hope was that Cruz would be that candidate. Cruz’s own website states that we "have witnessed an unprecedented attack on citizens’ first freedoms.” It also states that on day one of his presidency he will “will instruct the Department of Justice, the IRS, and every other federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today.” Sounds like Senator Ted Cruz is the candidate to protect religious freedom.
But with Cruz advocating Batista-like monitoring of Muslims this morning, it seems religious liberty is limited to only a few. First released on Facebook, then as a press release, Cruz said today responding to the Brussels attacks: "We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
What makes this so odd is that I’m not sure which neighborhood Cruz is speaking of. Is it the neighborhood he lives in here in Houston? I am sure his affluent neighborhood in the Greater Houston area has at least one Muslim family, maybe even two or more. Is Cruz advocating for his own neighborhood to be patrolled? Where are these “Muslim neighborhoods?”
Quite frankly, I’m not sure what Cruz is talking about, and I’m not certain he is either. If the presence of Muslims in a neighborhood makes it a “Muslim” one, then I live in a Muslim neighborhood, because at least three of my neighbors are Muslim. While we’re at it, I also live in a Hindu neighborhood, as several of my neighbors are Hindu as well. If this is our criteria, then I live in a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, atheist neighborhood. Should this neighborhood be monitored? Is assigning a police force to keep tabs on a particular faith group the “protection of religious liberty” Cruz touts so frequently?
The hysteria caused by claiming there is a group of people too dangerous and too widespread among the populace to control has had historically horrifying consequences. Senator Cruz’s statements are not just dangerous in that they seek to ostracize Muslims or alienate them among their neighbors; the real danger is that they also contribute to the hysteria and vigilantism that bring about real attacks on Americans of all faiths.
The real danger in Cruz’s statements is not just that he says them, but that he may not even believe them. He may be just craven enough in his desire to become the Republican nominee that he’ll sideline the liberties he’s sworn to protect to get the position he thinks he deserves.
There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime, Ted Cruz. It is sad to see that you are helping to wage it.