Cultural wedge issues have long been a feature of presidential campaigns, where Republicans in particular capitalize on the fears some have of the Other.
In 2012, the Republicans gravitated toward a new target: Muslims. They courted extreme segments of the Evangelical community who worked themselves into a fever pitch about living under sharia law and the dealing with the overthrow of Christianity.
With the 2016 presidential race in full swing, this Islamophobia is resurgent. Here are a few examples.
Encouraging Targeting of Muslims: In January, Texas Senator Ted Cruz joked that it's “not ticked-off Presbyterians” the United States is fighting; this month, Florida's Marco Rubio stole his joke, telling an audience our enemy is “not Presbyterian radicalism.” The coded language hints that Muslims are the problem (even though the majority of terrorism the U.S. experiences is from non-Muslim right-wing extremists).
Standing Alongside the Godfather of Islamophobia: Frank Gaffney runs the so-called Center for Security Policy, which will be hosting a conference this weekend. Five presidential candidates — Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Carli Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal — will reportedly attend. Gaffney has suggested that Obama is a Muslim and that the Muslim Brotherhood has supposedly taken over the U.S. government.
Complaining That Their Opponents are Loyal to Islam: Although most of the GOP has dropped birtherism (with the exception of Gaffney, who some candidates are shockingly courting, as noted above), there is a new form of questioning Obama's loyalty. Mike Huckabee said earlier this year, “Everything he [Obama] does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community.” This is probably news to Muslim Americans targeted by unfair spying and police tactics and Muslims abroad who give Obama very low approval ratings due to his continuance of hawkish foreign policy.
Unfortunately, even some among the Democrats have joined the pile-on. Former Democratic presidential candidate and General Wesley Clark floated the idea of internment camps for radicalized Muslims; not Muslims who have committed any crimes, but those who have by some undefined procedure been identified as not sharing our values.
But for the most part, the Democrats are not joining the discussion. While a string of GOP candidates turn Muslims into a punching bag, Team Democrat is just nowhere to be seen. The closest Hillary Clinton came to addressing Muslims so far has been to tweet an Eid greeting; Bernie Sanders hasn't even done that.
Muslims make up roughly one percent of the U.S. population, and Muslim Americans aren't asking for special favors. But when one political party is making hate such a big part of its campaign, it behooves the opposition to step up to the plate.