Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Blog

By Frank Matt and Omar Tewfik

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s entrance into the race for the GOP presidential nomination had the Arab American and American Muslim communities questioning his stance on a number of pertinent issues. Immediately after declaring his candidacy, Perry burst into the national media spotlight with his statement that the monetary policy of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was akin to treason. Since then, it has become increasingly clear that Governor Perry is never reluctant to say what’s on his mind. His strategy of coming out guns blazing has got Arab Americans and American Muslims wondering how Perry will relate to – or distance himself from – their communities.

The Arab American and American Muslim communities are eager to see how Perry the presidential candidate will shape his stance toward them. Thus far in the nomination battle, Islamophobia has been the inspiration for many sensationalist statements and stances, and has become an issue that a certain contingency of the Republican candidates have used to distinguish themselves from one another. As AAI previously reported, several candidates have engaged in convenient political anti-Muslim pandering in an effort to appease hard-liners by distancing themselves from their past records of positive relations with the American Muslim community. Already, Rick Perry himself has not been consistent in his relationship with the Muslim community, allying himself with individuals who believe Muslim immigration to the United States to be a “toxic cancer.”

Thus, Arab Americans are turning a wary eye toward Rick Perry, whose campaign debut has led many to wonder whether he will emerge as a thoughtful, principled candidate or yet another Islamophobic panderer. In Perry’s home state of Texas, community leaders say Perry’s relationship with them is by and large noncommittal, except when it comes to job creation. Perry has a “laser-sharp focus on job creation,” said Republican Richardson City Councilman Amir Omar. Omar suggested that Perry’s concern for turning the economy around will provide him with a means to avoid pandering to Islamophobic sentiments by articulating a “general inclusive policy that is a part of a good economic message.” He claimed that he would be surprised if Governor Perry digressed from his focus for political gain. On Jobs, Mohammed Elibiary, a Dallas-based Texas Muslim community leader and co-founder of the Freedom and Justice Foundation (F&J) who has worked with Perry for about a decade, echoed the councilman’s sentiments saying “he’s only seen Muslims as successful in building up this country.”

Outside of the realm of job creation, Texas leaders say Perry hasn’t given them reason to believe he will pander to Islamophobic sentiments but admit that he may be peer-pressured into joining the anti-Muslim ranks of the Republican Party at some point on the campaign trail. “It would be very surprising if he made a 180 degree turn” said Dr. Inayat Lalani, Founding President of the Texas-based American Muslim Democratic Caucus. However, Lalani believes that the precedent of pandering to anti-Muslim prejudices set by the likes of Bachmann, Cain, and Gingrich to engage the far-right of the Republican Party may cause a definitive shift in Perry’s luke-warm stance. “If [Perry] feels like he’s being challenged from the right, he might make an off the cuff statement in support of American sovereignty as a way of push back against foreign laws Shariah),” said Elibiary. Dr. Lalani said he doesn’t believe Perry will make any sort of anti-Muslim remarks on the campaign trail but said facetiously “these days you cannot be too friendly to Muslims.”

While Perry has made overtures to the American Muslim community in the areas of culture and education, he has remained notably silent on many of the issues of concern to American Muslims. When it comes to the Muslim community and law enforcement, Texas leaders say Perry has preferred to remain hands-off and is disinclined to interfere in law enforcement initiatives involving the American Muslim community. For this reason, many Arab Americans and American Muslims in Texas consider him neither decidedly a friend nor a foe, but rather someone who is simply inclined to not stir the pot on these issues. Governor Perry will no longer have the luxury of remaining silent on issues related to national security and the civil liberties of American Muslims, however, as he enters the presidential fray. Thus, Arab Americans have cause for being concerned about which side Rick Perry will take on the issues that most drastically effect their lives and liberties. Perhaps Rick Perry will somehow manage to maintain his silence on these issues throughout the race. But for a community besieged by bigotry and constantly subjected to enhanced scrutiny from this country’s national security apparatus, silence is unacceptable from a candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

The observations of Councilman Omar and other community members in Texas highlight a clear opportunity for Perry to show leadership in the realm of relations with American Muslims. Councilman Omar described at length Perry’s attempts to attract businesses to the city of Richardson’s “Telecomm Corridor,” a process that required the Governor to work with business leaders of a variety of backgrounds and faiths. As a Governor, Rick Perry clearly understood that intolerance and exclusion are bad for the business climate. Thus, Perry could make the case, citing his own record, that Islamophobic candidates are not serious about the economy. Such a path would not be the easy one, and would require forceful and thoughtful articulation of the principles of inclusion that Perry practiced as Governor. Unfortunately, Perry’s new alliances with espousers of hate speech suggest that Perry is inclined to take the politically expedient route of Islamophobic pandering rather than the high road.

comments powered by Disqus