Every few election cycles, from the tintinnabulation that is America’s two party system there arises a maverick, a pariah, and a rebel. He promises a third way. He promises an end, simultaneously, to leftist bureaucracy and rightist hypocrisy. He makes puritan appeals about ridding the political landscape of all of its technocrats and courtiers and overlords. He looks into the cameras with, quite often, a doey-eyed avuncular expression and steals the hearts of all those millions of Americans who have ever hoped to turn the profanity that is politics into a beautiful Paradise.
Wherever purity might be found, a Paradise might be erected, and hypocrisy removed, there you will find Muslims. It is, therefore, no surprise, that any time American politics produce a rebellious candidate, Muslims flock to him.
In 2000, this man was Ralph Nader. Ultra-left-wing, anti-corporation, big-government Ralph Nader.
In 2008 this man is Ron Paul. Ultra-right-wing, pro-corporation, small-government Ron Paul.
In the case of both, the draw for Muslims has been each man’s foreign policy pronouncements. Both men were critical of American support of Israel, opposed American intervention around the world, and proposed a check on American power (in Nader’s case via international law, in Paul’s case via isolationism). On a lesser level, they both took civil liberties positions that Muslims found heartening.
However, I have noticed that the amount of fervor that Ron Paul has inspired among Muslims has been far greater than the fervor Nader inspired. This has to do with the fact that in addition to his foreign policy positions, Paul is also religious, and socially conservative. I’m thinking that Muslims get way too worked up about conservative men who criticize Israel (thus Pat Buchanan’s popularity). This, probably, has something to do with the fact that according to surveys vast numbers of Muslims — not including me please — are actually more socially conservative than Evangelical Christians.
Paul, therefore, has been turned into the perfect candidate for a large number of Muslims. Challenges to prove that Ron Paul isn’t the best candidate “for the Muslimeen!” have deluged me. In fact, on the issue of Ron Paul I’ve had to take on my usually politically apathetic (and more conservative) brother as well. The fact that Ron Paul roused him from his World of Warcraft stupor is telling.
Yet, the simple fact is, Ron Paul is not the right candidate for Muslims. Both his foreign and domestic policy are devastating to Muslims.
Ron Paul takes money from Neo-Nazi groups and is near and dear to the notorious racist and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Clan, David Duke. Mr. Duke publicly gives advice to Paul. While its true that Paul may or may not be listening, but the fact that Duke leans into Paul to make his whispers, is troubling to me.
I’m sure Mr. Paul is a kind and ethical human being, but the involvement and approval he gets from right-wing Neo-Nazi groups ought to put Muslim on alert that just like the Evangelical Christians were a part of George Bush’s base (and hijacked it), so too are Neo-Nazis a part of Mr. Paul’s (and could hijack it).
Followers of Ron Paul have written some very unsavory things about blacks. In one newsletter published for nearly a decade bearing Paul’s name, his supporters ridiculed some black activists who wanted to renamed NYC after MLK Jr by suggesting that “Welfaria,” “Zooville,” “Rapetown,” “Dirtburg,” and “Lazyopolis” were better alternatives. Ron Paul didn’t put a stop to this. Why should he? He’s a libertarian. He is, by principle, not able to put a stop to others’ racism. For more background on the newsletter, go this investigative piece by Jamie Kirchik here.
How about worker’s rights like no hiring/firing on the basis of skin color? Ron Paul doesn’t care. Fired because you wear hijab? Ron Paul doesn’t care. Fired because you grew your Islamic beard? Ron Paul doesn’t care. In a Ron Paul world, get used to hearing the words: at-will-employment. It means pretty much what it sounds like: your career is at the mercy of the employer’s will. You can be fired just for being Muslim, and that’s OK: at-will-employment baby! If there is one single issue that Muslims need to be wary of when it comes to Ron Paul, its employment rights. For a constituency that likes working — a little too much — this should be a great problem, yet its not, since in utopia you can’t get fired. This probably explains why the biggest support for Paul is among Muslim college students: people who don’t hold real jobs.
Paulian opposition to nearly all government programs initiated in the New Deal and after is also troubling. Muslims get excited by the desire among Paulians to get rid of the IRS. However, in a Ron Paul America, there wouldn’t be an FDA (hello untested drugs), or an FAA (airlines thus making their own rules), or EEOC (goodbye employment discrimination complaints) or even the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. No Department of Homeland Security and no INS either: why bother when we won’t be allowing immigrants in? Good-luck trying to get your brother a green card.
Further, Mr. Paul opposes any restrictions or regulations on corporations. In other words, the few restraints that two hundred years of American activists have fought so hard to place upon American arms dealers, gun dealers, tobacco merchants, mortgage companies, liquor companies, pharmaceutical companies, will be gone.
Take the sub-prime mortgage crises that has hit many Muslim families. If your house is foreclosed because some banks in NY and Switzerland didn’t do proper due diligence before financing, in a Ron Paul world, the fault is yours. End of ballgame, move on folks. Say you lose your entire 401K and pension in an Enron-like fiasco; sorry, says Ron Paul, it was not the duty of the corporations to give those things to you anyway.
In Ron Paul’s world, the state cannot meddle with the affairs of the corporations. Muslims sophisticated in history might care to recall that the era of colonialism began with a corporation that operated free from the strictures of a nation-state: British East India Company.
This – corporations – is where we move to the area of foreign policy.
In a Ron Paul world, all the major American corporations will become freed from the hundreds of treaties, regulations, and laws that we pass every year to regulate their behavior. Under current international law, DC is accountable for the crimes carried out by its corporations. Not so in a Ron Paul world. Right-wing libertarianism hates international law; they consider it a communist conspiracy.
Oddly, Muslims who support Ron Paul go off a bridge at this point. They say: the neo-conservative years demonstrate that corporations run the show anyway so why bother with anything? Not only is this defeatist, its also sad (only among Muslims is revenge against neo-conservative corporatism carried out by running away). The solution to preventing corporate greed isn’t to give into corporate greed and leave it unfettered; it is to contain it. Exxon’s yearly profits exceed those of a vast majority of the countries of this world. Just a few years ago in Nigeria and Indonesia, major American oil corporations formed militias in order to intimidate and assassinate opponents. And this was during the Clinton years, way more stringent towards corporations than Ron Paul would ever be. (Victims of these crimes were able to bring a case against the corporations in California federal courts — which wouldn’t exist in a Ron Paul world).
Diplomatic blow-back and international shame are considered by most foreign policy experts to be significant in terms of deterring a country’s aggression and stupidity. In a Ron Paul world America would be less diplomatic and less ashamed than it was during the Bush administration. In the case of Bush this was due to his foolishness; in the case of Paul its due to principle. What’s the difference? We need accountability, not its opposite.
At the end of the day, Muslims should be agitating for America to adopt a multi-lateral foreign policy, to participate in the UN, and to follow the human rights and non-proliferation and anti-torture conventions to which it is a party. Another area where Muslims can do some good within the US is to track which human rights treaties the US signs but does not subsequently “execute.” There is a loophole in American treaty-law. We often sign treaties but have created an artificial constitutional barrier which allows us to forswear applying them. For example, Bill Clinton signed the US onto International Criminal Court, yet Bush has pretended that it doesn’t apply to us. This is the kind of stuff that Muslims who are unhappy with American foreign policy should be looking at. Instead, sigh…
Thankfully, not all Muslims have been duped. Anecdotally speaking, African-American and Latino-American Muslims do not go close to right-wing libertarianism. Together, these two groups compose at least 1/3rd of American Islam. Paul acquires most of his support among Muslims from first-generation Pakistani and Arab immigrants (or converts brainwashed by such immigrants). This split in our communities reveals, yet again, the sad reality of immigrant-domination of American-Muslim communities. Support for Ron Paul should be added to the entire litany of complaints that Black and Latino (and other convert) Muslims have towards immigrant Muslims.
There is, however, a more compelling reason to not support Ron Paul. It’s compelling because its pragmatic: Ron Paul is not viable.
Many Muslims are in the terrible habit of chasing mirages, especially when it comes to politics. Believing that they are eternally destined to remain victimized and marginalized by “the system” (all while they go to top schools and work at top hospitals) they concede pre-emptive defeat and never bother to engage the system at all.
Muslims should take heart from the progressive movement. Progressives – who have over and again demonstrated that many of the things they believe in benefit Muslims – are instructive in showing how a small group of dedicated individuals can change the discourse.
It was a progressive Senator who cast the only vote against the Patriot Act (Senator Feingold); it was a progressive act on the part of Barack Obama that led him to oppose the War in Iraq; it was a Muslim running on a progressive platform that became the first Muslim in Congress (Keith Ellison — see my profile of his relationship to Muslims here); it was the progressive movement that has been a longstanding critic of Rudy Giuliani and police brutality; and it’s a Senator (Dodd) backed by progressive gusto who is trying to do away with FISA, the wiretapping law. If these progressives are having so much success, then clearly being a part of “the system” isn’t all that meaningless.
In fact, if the example of Barack Obama and John Edwards has shown anything, its that a dedicated participation in the American system is not misplaced. Poll after poll is showing that the two most important issues in this election are not Terror and War, but Healthcare and Economy. This is due, almost entirely, to the conviction among progressives that these issues mattered and their willingness to show why. Both of these candidates pledged not to take any lobbying money from DC lobbyists, and have had significant success without so doing. I provide the examples of progressives not to persuade Muslims to become members of the left, but to demonstrate that participating in the system is not hopeless, and that change comes from within (the system).
Ron Paul was not part of the system. Even he recognized that, crafting “revolution” based campaign strategy, which I admit was cute and romantic and all the references to the film V for Vendetta were omg so cool w00t. However, being an outsider to politics means that one has almost no influence on actual policy. Muslims have to break the habit of supporting candidates who willfully isolate themselves. Instead, they must start joining big-campaigns where their imprint may be smaller, but can be more permanent. It is possible that this will mean that Muslims join many campaigns instead of one. That’s fine, Muslims don’t all think alike and in fact, should be spread across the various campaigns.
One counter-argument I’m willing to concede is that supporting Ron Paul would have been a sort of symbolic protest. Yet, my concession is, at best, due to pity. On closer inspection this makes little sense. Why would you carry out your protest within the Republican Party? Fact is, since 9/11, the Republican Party – with some exceptions – has made it an art-form to demonize Islam. (I, in fact, declared that the GOP had a Muslim Problem). 40% of Republicans polled supported mapping Muslims and under a Republican attorney general major Muslim organizations like ISNA were ridiculously named “un-indicted co-conspirators” by US Attorneys. So if symbolic support was really the modus operandii, Muslims should have put their focus on the Democratic Party and getting behind people like Edwards. That would have been real protest for how a Republican President treated Muslims after the 2000 bloc vote Muslims gave him. Instead, by staying with Republicans, Muslims just showed that they have no dignity. Well done.
Anyway, I purposefully held off writing this article until Super Tuesday so Muslims could see how not-viable Ron Paul was from the get-go, despite all the hoopla. Hopefully a light bulb will go off.
Thankfully, it is not yet too late for Muslims to regroup. Primary season is still in full-swing and viable candidates are still pandering to constituents. Both the Republican and Democratic nomination efforts are still going. Muslim groups, mosques, activist communities and intellectual should get off their Ron Paul kick and enter the reality-based community.