An American Islam
Why Do Republicans Dislike Muslims?
For many years of my adult life, I was a Republican and voted with the GOP in almost every election. For several of those years, in fact, I was in the Republican Party organization in my local township. I felt at home in the Republican Party, with its insistence on personal liberty and limited government. Moreover, I felt that it was more "faith-friendly," with people of faith being more welcome among Republicans than Democrats.
In 2008, however, that all changed. With the repeated whispers among Republicans that Obama was a "Muslim," as if that was some sort of plague or flaw, I was totally soured against the GOP, and I officially left the Party. Since then, I have periodically wondered whether I made the right decision. In 2011, in a column I wrote for Patheos, I came to the conclusion that I had done the right thing.
Since then, it seems that the Republican Party has decided that demonizing Islam and Muslims is good politics. Never mind that American Muslims are some of the most successful Americans around. Never mind that American Muslims are just the sort of people who would be good allies of the Republican Party. Never mind that American Muslims are an important part of the fabric of our country and marginalizing them—as with any other minority—can only hurt the country going forward.
No. It seems that the Republican Party does not want any Muslims in its ranks, and it is quite content with that.
Now, that last sentence that I wrote may have been out of emotion and without much basis in fact. But, in fact a recent poll by the Arab American Institute backs up that contention with actual fact. According to the survey, 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Muslims. Only 26 percent have a favorable view of Muslims. Now, when asked about "Muslim Americans," it got a little better: 47 percent have unfavorable views versus 35 percent with favorable views.
According to the survey, "Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims."
As a whole, Republicans are just not that into Muslims. But, does that explain the seemingly endless demonization of Islam and Muslims from members of the Republican Party? Is it a personal bias and dislike of Muslims that leads Republican lawmakers from more than a dozen states to try an enact laws that ban "Sharia law"? It would be easy to draw this conclusion and move on.
But as I read on in the study, I was struck by something that really explained a lot behind this negative attitude toward Muslims. When asked, "Do you personally know anyone who is Arab or Muslim?" 49-63 percent of respondents answered in the negative, the most being among Romney voters. Among those who said they knew an Arab or Muslim, 56-65 percent had a favorable view.
That is the key, and it actually gave me a lot of hope. Simply put, we need to know one another better. I suspect that many of the negative feelings toward Muslims found in this study are due to the fact that most of the respondents do not know a Muslim. Once they know a Muslim, they realize that Muslims are Americans just like them who love their country deeply and wish for many of the same things that they do.
It's going to take a lot of effort, for both the American Muslim community and their neighbors of other faiths. That work, however, is critical to our cohesion as a nation and a people. There are forces of hatred and division that are actively at work to make sure that this divide amongst us stays as wide as possible. We have to make sure that these efforts end up in miserable failure.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook.