A group of conservative Muslim and Arab American officials on Tuesday went further than most in the GOP to accuse their Republican colleagues of trying to exploit the so-called "Ground Zero mosque controversy" for electoral benefits.
In a letter to Republican leaders, the group of authors criticized members of the party for abandoning the principle of tolerance that has defined the GOP from Lincoln to Bush. In the process, the authors -- who include former Bush administration official Randa Fahmy Hudome and former Reagan administration official and prominent D.C.-based lawyer George Salem, as well as David Ramadan, who worked on both of George W. Bush's campaigns -- make similar philosophical and substantive arguments as other defenders of the proposed Cordoba House.
(Update: Samah Norquist, wife of prominent GOP activist Grover Norquist and a Senior Advisor to Arab and Muslim Outreach, for the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Bush Administration, has also signed the letter)
In its sharpest criticism, the group chastises the GOP for putting short-term electoral interests ahead of geopolitical concerns.
"While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America," the authors write. As President Lincoln so eloquently stated in his famous speech: 'a house divided against itself cannot stand.'"
This is, it appears, a direct shot against several current members of Congress (among them, Sen. David Vitter and the National Republican Senatorial Committee) who have already begun using the "mosque" debate as a political bludgeon. And while, the conservative Muslim and Arab-American community is far from the type of lobbying force that can change broader party strategy or tactics, their concerns aren't being offered in a vacuum. Others in the party, notably other veterans of the Bush administration, have tried to get their colleagues to tone down the rhetoric surrounding the Islamic cultural center as well.
Hudome, Ramadan, Salem and certainly Norquist, meanwhile, have audiences in the top circles of the GOP (former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, for one, has talked with Ramadan about his concerns) owing primarily to the work they have done on behalf of the party in the past.
BELOW IS THE FULL LETTER.
August 17, 2010
Dear Republican Colleague:
We are writing to you today as loyal Americans who are active members of the Republican Party. We also happen to be proud of our Arab American and Muslim American contributions to the Republican Party.
We are deeply concerned by the rhetoric of some leading members of our party surrounding the construction of the Muslim Community Center in downtown Manhattan. These comments are not only constitutionally unsound, they are also alienating millions of Arab American and Muslim American voters who believe, as we do, in the principles of our party - individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.
As you know, our party has had a long history of inclusion - beginning with our great President Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership on the slavery issue was monumental, and continuing through President George W. Bush whose public statements and actions on the differentiation between Islam and the terrorists who attacked us on 9-11 were critically important. We are particularly proud to note that President Bush appointed more Arab Americans and Muslim Americans to his administration than any other president in U.S. history.
That being said, it perplexes us as to why some vocal members of our party have chosen to oppose the construction of a cultural and religious center on private grounds. Not only does the First Amendment to our Constitution protect the right of these private citizens to worship freely, it also prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. Our party and the leaders in our party should not be engaged in judgment issues of the location of a cultural center and a house of worship in direct contravention of the First Amendment.
While some in our party have recently conceded the constitutional argument, they are now arguing that it is insensitive, intolerant and unacceptable to locate the center at the present location: "Just because they have the right to do so - does not make it the right thing to do" they say. Many of these individuals are objecting to the location as being too close to the Ground Zero site and voicing the understandable pain and anguish of the 9-11 families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. In expressing compassion and understanding for these families, we are asking ourselves the following: if two blocks is too close, is four blocks acceptable? or six blocks? or eight blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his/her religion in certain places within defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some citizens? Should our party not be standing up and taking a leadership role- just like President Bush did after 9-11 - by making a clear distinction between Islam, one of the great three monotheistic faiths along with Judaism and Christianity, versus the terrorists who committed the atrocities on 9-11 and who are not only the true enemies of America but of Islam as well? President Bush struck the right balance in expressing sympathy for the families of the 9-11 victims while making it absolutely clear that the acts committed on 9-11 were not in the name of Islam. We are hoping that our party leaders can do the same now - especially at a time when it is greatly needed.
While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America. As President Lincoln so eloquently stated in his famous speech: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
As proud and patriotic Americans, we are grateful for all the rights our U.S. citizenship allows us, and we will always do our best to not only protect our rights but the rights of all others as well. May God Bless our nation, our freedoms, and our party.
Vice Chair, Ethnic Coalitions, Republican Party of Virginia
President, New Jersey Federation of Republican Women
Randa Fahmy Hudome
Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy, Bush Administration
Solicitor of Labor, Reagan Administration
Chairman, Conservative Inclusion Coalition