Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
By Mona Eltahawy
NEW YORK — If it’s been hard for American Muslim supporters of Barack Obama to hear right wing “accusations” that he’s a “secret Muslim” — and to feel that the Obama campaign keeps them at arm’s length — imagine how it feels to be an American Muslim Republican.
“The last 8 years have been truly distressing,” said Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa, a physician and writer. “The Bush Administration has destroyed the Republican brand, misled us into a war that should never have been waged, and has served the privileged few at the expense of the many.”
“I am truly having an identity crisis as a Muslim Republican. I really don’t want to abandon the party, but I really feel the party has abandoned me,” he said.
What a difference eight years make. In November 2000, buoyed by George W. Bush’s pledge to end the use of secret evidence in immigration cases — a form of racial profiling that disproportionately affected Muslim — American Muslim groups whose followers were largely of immigrant descent advised voting as a bloc for Bush. (African-American Muslims — the largest single ethnic Muslim group — traditionally vote Democrat.)
Fast forward to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: Despite an appearance by Bush at a mosque to show he didn’t hold all Muslims responsible, his administration proceeds to do exactly this: use “secret evidence” and behave in ways that make me wonder if they were taking notes from the dictatorial regime I suffered in Egypt when I moved to the United States in 2000.
Military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge and the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees — what kind of America is this?
Then “Mohammed Eruptions” began: Bigoted remarks like Rev. Franklin Graham’s, who infamously called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” Bombastic threats, as when Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo said the United States should bomb Mecca, if Islamic extremists used nuclear weapons to attack the United States.
So why stay in a party associated with anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric?
As a liberal secular Muslim, I am drawn to the Democratic platform. But conservative American Muslims identify with Republican “moral values,” especially opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Others, like 26-year old Tammer Riad, say Republicans support “individual liberty and free enterprise and their values are more congruent with ours as Muslims than the collectivist, moral-relativist Democrats.”
Riad told me the hardest thing for him was “accusations by other Muslims of ‘selling out’, ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and not being a ‘real’ Muslim.”
“I voted for Bush in 2000,” he said, “and 9/11 only strengthened my commitment to Republican ideals, as I feel that a decisive victory in the War on Islamist Terror will have tremendous benefits for both America and the Muslim world. Innocent Muslims have been the foremost victims of Islamist terror well before 9/11 and continuing to this day.”
“There is nothing inherently anti-Muslim about the Bush Administration’s counter-terror measures. Those Muslims who do criticize them as such are merely mimicking the talking points of non-Muslim leftist radicals who would have us believe we’re living in a police state run by Dick Cheney from some underground bunker.”
But Dr. Hassaballa told me that “many, many Muslims fled the Republican Party after 9/11.” He chose to stay because he believed the Republicans need Muslims in their ranks.
“I just feel, sadly, that the Republican Party, as it stands today, does not want Muslims,” he said. “The Republican Party today has abandoned its core principles, and it is being hijacked by the extreme right wing of the party. It is not the Party of Abraham Lincoln, the party it really should be.”
A Republican Muslim reader of my blog, who said he didn’t fit the stereotype of affluent Muslims traditionally associated with the party’s pro-business stance, expressed the fears of many American Muslims that both parties were biased towards Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. And he worried how the “secret Muslim” rumors would affect Obama.
“Obama will have to come down twice as hard on ‘mooslums’ to prove to the heartland (you know the ones that he skillfully said ‘cling to god and guns’) that he is not, never was and never will be a Muslim,” he said. “John McCain has nothing to prove in that regard.”
Republican Muslims are among the ranks of American servicemen and women (yes, they do exist) such as Mona Darwich, a social worker and former wife of a Marine. “The first four years of the Bush administration, as a Marine’s wife, I supported Bush one hundred percent,” she told me.
“But once my ex-husband left the military…I felt we got hit in our pockets…We went to care for other countries around the world while we watched the Katrina disaster and as the number of homeless in the U.S. increased dramatically.”
Darwich said she’s had a change of heart. “I am a Muslim Republican who will vote for a Democrat this time… Perhaps that will be the kick in the nuts that the Republican Party needs to wake up and return to the essence of what Republicans stand for.”
Copyright ©2008 Mona Eltahawy – distributed by Agence Global