Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Blog

Last Tuesday Senator John McCain delivered a sharp rebuke of Michele Bachmann’s personal attack on Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff. A public chastisement of Bachmann by some fellow members of the Republican Party ensued, with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) all issuing criticism of Bachmann’s contrived conspiracy theory that Abedin has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Bachmann’s former campaign manager Edward Rollins lambasted her in an op-ed run by Fox saying “I am fully aware that she (Bachmann) sometimes has difficulty with her facts.” More importantly, he also issued an important warning, saying that heading into the elections, “the Republican Party, which John McCain led as our nominee in 2008, is going to become irrelevant if we become the party of intolerance and hate.”

A few weeks ago Bachmann and four fellow Republican members of Congress, including Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, sent letters to Inspectors General of the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence imploring them to investigate the degree to which the Muslim brotherhood had infiltrated government. They asked whether “individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood" have "had an impact on the federal government's national security policies.” Nearly everyone agrees that these letters went too far and many have likened Bachmann to Senator Joe McCarthy, seeking out the communist threat in the 1950s. But we rarely discuss how we got here, and what conditions exist - mainly within the Republican Party as Rollins warned - which led us to this point.

When Bachmann and her colleagues sent those letters, they clearly sought to implicate the Obama administration and capitalize, yet again, on the ridiculous but prevalent notion that that the President harbors an Islamist agenda, and that he himself is Muslim. That assertion has surprising support in many circles in the GOP to vilify political opponents. The tactic of using Muslims as a political wedge issue is not a new phenomenon within the GOP. During the midterm elections, a number of candidates used Park 51 as a means to garner votes. Renee Ellmers, now Representing North Carolina’s 2nd district, ran on an explicitly anti-Islam platform. Congressman Allen West, a rising GOP star who RNC Chairman Reince Priebus recently asserted has a bright future in the Republican Party, is perhaps one of the most outspoken Islamophobic and anti-Arab members of Congress. Almost on a daily basis these individuals propagate the idea of a vast Sharia conspiracy led by the Muslim Brotherhood that Bachmann espoused in her letters. The reality is these elected members of Congress are acting on the propaganda and hateful rhetoric of known Islamophobes like Pamela Geller and Frank Gaffney, who have both been singled out by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their hate speech. During the Park 51 controversy, it was Geller who caused the fervor, and during this fiasco with Bachmann it is Frank Gaffney, president and founder of the Center for Security Policy, whose research is cited by Bachmann in her letters. Any degree to which these individuals serve as advisors or are viewed in any capacity as legitimate sources of information, especially on national security matters, is incredibly detrimental. However, their role clearly remains relevant, so it should not come as a surprise that this incident occurred. And now it is important that the GOP leadership who condemned Bachmann for her conspiracy take the right steps to purge the party of what Rollins correctly characterized as “intolerance and hate.”

The extent to which GOP can or is willing to completely repudiate Arab and Muslim bashing is unclear. Even in the wake of this controversy, Bachmann’s has doubled down on her allegations. And, strangely enough, despite his ostensibly honorable intentions, Senator McCain made an off the cuff remark during his speech earlier this week, asserting a personal friendship with Frank Gaffney and faith in the work of the Center for Security Policy in the past. His remarks were not part of his speech as was evident from their exclusion in a press release his office put out with the prepared remarks. Though he attacked Gaffney’s attack on Abedin, there has been no mention of his training program “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within,” which is the basis for Bachmann’s letters. McCain’s remarks were reminiscent of the 2008 campaign when in an effort to defend president Obama from a personal attack from a supporter who called Obama and Arab, Senator McCain responded, “No Ma’am, he’s a good man.” His intentions, of course, came from the right place, but his response proved the fact that among many in the GOP calling someone an Arab is pejorative. In this case, Senator McCain attacks Gaffney’s information but endorses him as a friend. Another question should be raised: if Bachmann hadn’t named Abedin in her attack, would there have been such a strong public response?

There are incredible examples of Republicans repudiating anti-Muslim fervor in the party. In July of last year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attacked critics of his decision to appoint Sohail Mohammed, an American Muslim, to the NJ Superior Court bench. Following the announcement of Mohammed’s appointment, right wing bloggers decried “more creeping Sharia” and warned that “Chris Christie has a Muslim problem.” Gov. Christie wasn’t having any of it, and he lashed out: “It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies,” said Governor Christie. "It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background. I’m happy that he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.” In 2008, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell also denounced the popular GOP fervor surrounding rumors that then candidate Obama was Muslim. “’Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.'” Powell said on MSNBC’s Meet the Press. “Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.” Despite their leadership, and the leadership of the several members of the party who criticized Bachmann this week, the same issues with Arabs and Muslims the GOP had in 2008 exist today. They are, however, now manifesting themselves in a more dangerous way, threatening to destroy the careers of thousands of American Muslim and Arab American men and women who serve in government. The GOP leadership is also continuing the trend of alienating members of certain communities with their rhetoric, as our polling indicates. It’s time for the GOP to create the conditions to bring about a lasting and sustainable solution to this problem, or as Rollins warned, they will “become the party of intolerance and hate.”

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