On Meet the Press Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson said that Islam as a religion is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and that he, "would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation." His assertion that Islam is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution is jarring to the ears of American Muslims who serve our nation each day, many risking their lives to keep us safe. It will also be news to the hundreds and thousands of Muslim kids who each day at school, including many in Islamic schools, recite the Pledge of Allegiance. There is no evidence that American Muslims in any significant numbers are seeking to replace the Constitution with Shariah. However, Carson with his incredibly ignorant statement has undermined the values of the U.S. Constitution, all the while purporting to defend it.
Carson has continued to hurl even more insults by saying that he would support a Muslim for president if he or she denounced their religion, Shariah to be more specific. Shariah to Muslims is what Halacha is to Jews and Cannon Law is to Catholics. He compounded the problem further by assuming the role of a mufti (one who makes fatwas) when he asserted that Muslims who reject the harsh punishments of Shariah or any of its extreme interpretations will be considered "infidels and heretics." Not only is Carson theologically wrong but also tone deaf to what the U.S. Constitution actually says in Article 6, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." John F. Kennedy had no problems defending the U.S. Constitution even when it seemed to conflict with his church's doctrine. Why would a Muslim president not be assumed to be bounded by the same sense of duty to country and fidelity to the Constitution?
On a right-wing talk show Carson incredulously said, "If you're a Christian and you're running for president and you want to make us into a theocracy, I'm not going to support you." Great, except the fact that he has advocated replacing the U.S. tax code with a system based on the Biblical understanding of tithing because he thinks, "God is a pretty fair guy." Candidates need to fact-check their own statements before miring themselves and the nation into unnecessary controversies.
Carson's exclusionary comments about American Muslims has drawn bi-partisan criticism from political leaders and Presidential candidates. One Muslim group has asked Carson to step down. In a democracy, this is a curious call. It should be the voter's prerogative to accept or reject candidates with bigoted views. Making coercive demands of candidates only hardens their positions and restricts their public space for a course correction. Coincidentally, the same Muslim group has not asked Donald Trump to step down, even though Trump's views against birthright citizenship is just as unconstitutional (violating the 14th Amendment). One representative went on to justify their non-call because Trump espouses "run of the mill bigotry." There is nothing run-of-the-mill ever about bigotry.
On a moral scale Trump's views are just as reprehensible. At a Trump townhall meeting one questioner said, "We've got a problem in this country, it's called Muslims. We know the president is one." He added: "You know he's not even an American." This comment went unchallenged by Trump. Much of the media outrage has focused on Trump not challenging the egregious suggestion that Obama is a Muslim and not American. But lost in the conversation is the xenophobia in the comment stating that "Muslims" are "a problem" in this country and "When can we get rid of 'em?"
Carson and Trump are hardly alone in fanning anti-Muslim sentiments. Ted Cruz while denouncing Carson went on to add that the U.S. should accept refugees from Syria but only if they are Christian. He speculated, without a shred of evidence, that many of the refugees fleeing Syria or Iraq are terrorists who are using the crisis to get access to the West. Carson, Trump, Cruz and any other who may harbor such callous sentiments do not deserve to lead our great nation. But this determination ought to be made via the ballot box. Selectively asking for resignation may be great political and media theatre but it does not address the root cause of this bigotry.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 47 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Islam. Today that favorable number is down to 27 percent. Not surprisingly then, a 2015 poll shows, 73 percent of Americans believing that Muslims face a great deal or a fair amount of discrimination. This outstrips attitudes towards both African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who are viewed as targets of bias and discrimination by 6 in 10 Americans. A 2010 Time magazine cover provocatively questioned is "Is America Islamophobic?" Time wrote, "In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there's no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism." Five years later, things have only worsened.
Beyond the headlines here are the facts. Muslims in America, who are a tiny minority representing less than 2 percent of the population, are demanding their civil rights by citing the U.S. Constitution not the Holy Quran. It is true that the word pluralism does not appear in the Quran but normatively it is a foundational value of Islam, although in fairness many Muslims fail to put such pluralistic principles into practice. And yet it is also undeniable that a majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims live in democracies, ample proof that there is no inherent discord between Islam and democracy. The Council of Foreign Relations concludes that, "a mix of historical, cultural, economic, and political factors--and not Islam as a religion--to explain why democracy has failed to take root in many Muslim countries." Islam is not merely compatible with American values, Islam enriches America by demanding that its followers contribute to the betterment of their societies and their country.
In fact, a portrait of the American Muslim community finds them both middle class and mainstream. The percentage of Americans who think of themselves as Muslims first is no different than that of their Christian counterparts, even though 6 in 10 Muslims are first generation immigrants to the U.S. Islam is no more or any less compatible with American values than any other faith that is part of America's pluralistic religious fabric. Dylan Roof (Charleston) and Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma) no more represents Caucasians or Christianity than Hasan Nidal (Fort Hood) represents Arabs or Islam. Guilt by association goes against the fundamental American value of individual liberty. If politicians, in order to gain a few votes, can ignore this, then how can they be trusted with making major decisions when those decisions may require standing up to bigoted public opinions?