Romney should avoid pandering to anti-Muslim sentiments

Watch for Mitt Romney to play the anti-Muslim card against President Obama.

During the primaries, several Republican candidates pandered to their nativist constituencies by mouthing anti-Muslim slurs.

Newt Gingrich stated that ”Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it,” and he expressed his worry that the United States could become “a secular atheist country … potentially one dominated by radical Islamists” in the foreseeable future.

Rick Santorum said he supported the racial profiling of Muslims by law enforcement agencies. ”Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at, absolutely,” said Santorum during one debate.

Herman Cain said Americans had the right to ban mosques in their communities, and he admitted he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet.

Neither would Romney.

During his last presidential run he said he would not appoint a Muslim to his presidential cabinet since “based on the numbers of American Muslims in our population” as a percentage, “I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified.”

That is pretty big talk coming from Romney since he's a Mormon, and Mormons account for only about 2 percent of the total American population — almost the same percentage as American Muslims.

But he will be under a lot of pressure from social conservatives to hype the anti-Muslim rhetoric.

After all, Republicans did it the last time around.

A mere four years ago, certain elements of the Republican Party repeatedly painted Barack Obama as some kind of crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate. To avoid any blowback, then-candidate Obama never once went within 12 feet of an American mosque entrance during his campaign (and still has not visited one to this day). The issue became so toxic that in June 2008, two women were removed from an Obama rally photo opportunity simply because they wore the hijab (or headscarf).

President Obama should stop bypassing mosques and should call out this bigotry for what it is.

And Romney, as a member of a religious minority, should rise to the defense of Muslim-Americans rather than stoop to slurring them.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era." He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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