Saturday, September 26, 2015

Is Ben Carson a bigot?


Ben Carson is running for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election. During an appearance on ‘Meet the Press’ Sunday, Sept. 20, NBC's Chuck Todd asked him, "Do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?" "No, I do not," Carson responded. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

Carson’s myopic remarks about having a litmus test - an exclusive one, which I must add - for American Muslims to qualify for the highest elected position in the USA sparked widespread bipartisan backlash from many who saw unequivocal signs of bigotry and chauvinism. But such rebukes and condemnations did not sober him up. He went on to Fox News the next day to try to explain himself more clearly.

“Absolutely, I stand by the comments,” Carson said on the “Hannity” program. “You know what we have to do is we have to recognize this is America and we have a Constitution and we do not put people at the leadership of our country whose faith might interfere with carrying out the duties of the Constitution.” He also suggested that he would be open to supporting someone who was born Muslim but who renounced the religion: “Now if someone has a Muslim background and they’re willing to reject those tenets … then I will be quite willing to support them.”

Later, on Monday night Carson took to Facebook to clarify again. This time he said that his problem with Islam is that he sees Sharia law as its core tenet and that he could not support a Muslim who condones acts of violence against homosexuals. He said, “But until these tenets are fully renounced … I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for president.”

On Wednesday morning, he boasted that his support base  within the Republican Party with such remarks, which Muslims find very offensive, had only grown. "The money has been coming in so fast, it's hard to even keep up with it," he said on Fox News, when asked about whether his comments had affected his donations. "I remember the day of the last debate, within 24 hours we raised $1 million. And it's coming in at least at that rate if not quite a bit faster."

When a society rewards its bigots it paints a very disturbing picture about the lack of moral standing of that society. Sadly, to the zealots of today's Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln is a distant memory. Most Blacks, i.e., the Afro-Americans don't support the party any more; only a handful - considered ‘house niggers’ or ‘Oreo Cookies’ - now flocks to the party of Abraham Lincoln. Ben Carson, obviously, fits in that formula quite well. 

Under media firestorm, Carson later did go on to say that Muslims should be eligible to serve in Congress, just not the White House, adding that Islam, as a religion, is ‘incompatible with the Constitution.’ Carson's remarks came after fellow candidate Donald Trump tolerated comments made by a town hall attendee who said that "radical Muslims" are a problem in the United States and described President Barack Obama as Muslim.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Carson to withdraw from the race on Monday for his ‘unconstitutional and un-American statements.’ The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish advocacy group, also denounced the remarks as ‘deeply offensive, un-American and contrary to the Constitution.’

I am not sure whether bigots like Ben Carson have read the constitution or has problem comprehending its message when Article VI of the US Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” I am also not sure if Carson is aware of the fact that President Thomas Jefferson had a Qur'an, which is still in the Library of Congress. Congressman Keith Ellison, [a Muslim] representative from Minnesota, was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Qur'an. 

In recent decades the Republican Party has become a party that seems to promote bigotry and intolerance.  [Of course, there are exceptions like Carly Fiorina, the ex-CEO of HP, now seeking Republican ticket, who chastised Carson’s remarks by saying, “I think that’s wrong.” She also told Jimmy Fallon of NBC's ‘The Tonight Show last Monday, Sept.  21, that people of faith, regardless of their particular religion, ‘make better leaders.’]

Many of the Republican candidates have found anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-immigrant views to endear themselves to party followers.  In 2012 Herman Cain, a black Republican presidential hopeful at the time, said that he would never have a Muslim serve on his cabinet; Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, also a candidate then, promised a constitutional amendment banning Sharia in this country. The Carson campaign has already boasted that 24 hours after making that offensive comment, they've got 100,000 new Facebook followers. It is not a healthy sign for a nation that has been a nation of immigrants of all faiths.

What is happening is nothing to feel good about. There is an anti-Muslim paranoid hysteria that is running amuck. It is affecting the psyche of all people. Consider, for instance, the case Ahmed Mohamed of Irving, Texas. He is a young Muslim student, son of an immigrant family. He ended up in handcuffs after his homemade clock was presumed to be a bomb. Meanwhile, a young British Muslim, at Central Foundation Boys’ School, north London, was questioned about Islamic State for having referred to “L’ecoterrorisme” while discussing environmental activism in a French lesson.

Ever since George Bush unleashed his Global War on Terror, to be continued by his successor Barack Obama with drone attacks, many innocent Muslims have been terrorized around the globe. This has radicalized some to unleash their brand of terror on soft targets.  While most of the victims of terrorism have been Muslims they are, by default, suspected of being terrorists.

Forgotten in this paranoid environment are the facts that Dr. Mehmet Oz – the host of popular ‘The Dr Oz Show’, Dr. Fareed Zakaria – host of the CNN’s popular hour-long GPS program, world famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, journalist Christiane Amanpour, and human rights barrister Amal Clooney - all come from Muslim families. And let’s not forget other Muslim celebrities like – boxer Muhammad Ali, basket ball players Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Craig Hodges, Jamaal Wilkes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal, singers Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Akon, Jermaine Jackson and Janet Jackson, rappers Rakim, Everlast, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, T-Pain and MC Ren, music producer Q-Tip, Hollywood actress Ellen Burstyn, actors Ice Cube and Omar Epps, comedian Dave Chappelle, and of course, (late) Malcolm X.

As noted in a recent Guardian, UK, editorial, the hyped Islamophobia is creating two dangers – the alienation of Muslim citizens, and then, as a consequence, the failure of a multicultural society to knit together. “Where any part of the population feels walled off from the rest by mistrust, hostile ideas will be encouraged on one side of the divide, while ignorance sets in on the other. That ignorance is bad in itself, but it also hobbles those tasked with preventing terrorist acts. It is therefore not only liberals and multiculturalists but also smart security services that should worry about the state being too heavy-handed.

Only by eradicating religious prejudice can we hope to create an integrated multi-cultural society that respects diversity. And Ben Carson should have known better. He is a Seventh Day Adventist - a Christian denomination, which not too long ago was considered by many faithful Christians as a cult.  He grew up in a broken family and was raised without a father who was a minister of that church. I am not sure if he read his own Bible well before being so unwisely judgmental about the Qur’an, Islam and Muslims.

As James Lartey has brilliantly put in the Guardian, “All holy texts make claims about crime, punishment, war, human relationships and a whole host of other facets of social and political life that, if interpreted literally, cannot help but clash with the freedoms and frameworks of governance set out in the US constitution.” A literal, non-contextual fundamentalist reading of the books of Islam – like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or any other faith – is sure to give the impression that they are thoroughly incompatible with the founding documents of this country, or any secular society.

In recent weeks, Carson has also revealed his hypocritical self. He does not want American Muslims to uphold the teachings of the Qur’an over the US Constitution but has no problem supporting Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to certify same-sex marriages. Her willful disregard for the constitution on religious grounds as an elected official has been met with flattering adoration by many in the Republican field to whom the so-called the Judeo-Christian teachings of the Bible are more binding than upholding the constitution of the USA.

Rather than Muslim-bashing, Ben Carson and his hypocritical fellow candidates within the GOP need to have soul-searching as to where they truly stand on that proposed litmus test of Carson putting the constitution ‘above their religious beliefs’. That would be fair rather than hand-wringing at the specter of a future hypothetical fundamentalist or a radical Muslim president running this country according to the Shariah.


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