Fear of a Republican Muslim

An attempt to create a new GOP group causes widespread backlash

Published September 8, 2011 3:03PM (EDT)

A Muslim leader in south Florida is seeking to form the first Muslim Republican club in the area, drawing intense opposition from some within the GOP.

Nezar Hamze is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of South Florida. He is also, he tells me, a longtime registered Republican who wants to "fight the myth of the Muslim vote being Democratic."

He is also the latest flashpoint in a battle over Islam within the GOP, seen most recently in the criticisms of Rick Perry for his ties to the Texas Muslim community and in Virginia, where a Muslim Republican candidate for the House of Delegates has come under attack.

In August, Hamze, 35, submitted an application to become a voting member of the Broward Republican Executive Committee, a body within which he would like to organize the Muslim Republican club.

"A lot of Muslims I know, their values really line up with the conservative values of the Republican party," Hamze says. "I'm a strict social conservative, a fiscal conservative, a very strict constitutionalist. The protection of civil liberties for all Americans is supreme."

He was not exactly welcomed with open arms. Following a report on Hamze's plans on Shark Tank, a right-leaning Florida politics website, he was attacked as un-American by some commentators.

Sarasota-based blogger and radio host Rich Swier dismissed Hamze’s religious convictions. In a post published on Tea Party Nation and picked up on several other sites, Swier wrote:

Mr. Hamze, if he is a true believer, would not embrace the U.S. Constitution as supreme because it is accepted Islamic doctrine, under shariah, that the Qur'an must supersede any document written by man.

The Jacksonville branch of the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America responded to the news of Hamze's plans with this un-Welcome Mat.

CAIR / HAMAS will start Islamic Republican Club in S. Florida? REALLY? As a CAIR leader his is in fact a HAMAS operative and one who is a Devout adherent to SHARIA Law with is Diametrically opposed to the Constitution."

In fact, Hamze has spoken out against all forms of terrorism in unequivocal terms.

"Any organization, any person who take it upon themselves to take an innocent life, and an innocent life meaning someone standing on the side of the street, not doing anything and they get  killed -- that person has lost their path, that person has lost the straight way, and it is against Islam to take an innocent life," he said earlier this year. "Anybody that takes an innocent life, any organization, any government has lost their path, and we cannot be with them, we are not with them, as far as Islamically standing, we are not with them."

Hamze’s foreign policy views are no more radical than favoring the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

One local Republican blogger wondered aloud if the man behind if Shark Tank, might be "a Hamas sympathizer and organizer" because of their fairly straightforward report on Hamze.

Hamze, in fact, has nothing to do with Hamas, the Islamist party/militia that is battling Israel in Gaza.  His father came to the United States from Lebanon during the civil war there; Hamze himself was born in Michigan and grew up in south Florida.

Hamze called the idea that he does not believe in the Constitution because he is Muslim "baseless garbage."

There seems little doubt that Hamze is spoiling for a fight.

He lives in Sunrise, and CAIR South Florida is based in Pembroke Pines, both cities in Broward County not far from the congressional district of the most vocal anti-Muslim U.S. representative, Allen West. Last February, Hamze made headlines when he challenged West during a town hall meeting to show him a verse in the Quran that tells Muslims to attack innocent people. His demand prompted an exchange in which West accused Hamze of trying to "blow sunshine up my butt." Watch:

Last month,  Hamze sent West a letter asking him to cut ties with anti-Muslim activists such as Pamela Geller. West responded with a one-word letter on congressional stationery. "NUTS!" he wrote. Here's a local press report on the exchange:

Hamze insists he is aligned with West on many issues.

"I can say I'm pretty much lined up with his views -- like [on] health care and an issue here about the Everglades. I'm obviously in direct contrast with his beliefs about Islam."

For now, he's waiting to hear back from the Broward Republican Executive Committee, which next meets on Sept. 26.

"The Republican Party of Florida has rules and procedures for admission to the executive committees and the creation of Republican clubs across Florida," BREC Executive Director Richard DeNapoli told Salon. "I can assure you these rules and procedures will be followed." He declined to comment further on the case.

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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