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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Letter from America:Is Ben Carson a bigot?

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

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, Afro-Americans don't support the party; only a handful - considered ‘house niggers’ or ‘Orio 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.

Ben Carson 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 had read his own Bible before being so 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.

Seemingly in Bennett and Carson’s world, there are only two Islams: real Islam, which is violent and fundamentalist; and “Islam-lite” which is westernized, pleasant and diluted into inauthenticity.

That is a position Carson actually shares with Isis and Islamic extremists around the globe. But whether voiced by violent extremists or US presidential candidates, that view of Islam is an ahistorical and lazy reading of both faith and history – and one that’s been increasingly, tragically popular in neoconservatives circles since September 11, 2001.

Taking Carson at his word only serves to better highlight the profound problems in his understanding of Islam.

Pundits won’t be shy about drawing the connection between Carson’s comments and the saga of Kim Davis, whose willful disregard for the constitution on religious grounds and as an elected official been met with fawning adoration by many in the Republican field. To an extent this actually includes Carson, who offered Davis his support – however tepid and dissembling – in an appearance on The Kelly File.

Except there is, of course, no immediate danger of a Muslim fundamentalist becoming president of the US – but the same can’t be said for fundamentalist Christianity, which has deep and enduring roots in Carson’s Republican party.

Indeed Carson’s proposed litmus test of “if they put the constitution above their religious beliefs” is one that several GOP contenders – Mike Huckabee comes first to mind – might be hard-pressed to pass. Perhaps Carson would be better served reminding himself and his fellow Republican candidates of that truth as it pertains to their own chosen religion, rather than hand-wringing at the spectre of future hypothetical fundamentalist Muslim presidents.
But Mr. Carson was not absolute in his view that the Constitution should be more important than religious belief. Asked if this also should apply to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to certify same-sex marriages, Mr. Carson said that his calculus applies to presidential contenders.

“She’s not running for president,” Mr. Carson said. “Anybody who is running for the president of the United States must embrace our Constitution. And they must place it above their personal beliefs.”

-Asian Tribune -

Letter from America:Is Ben Carson a bigot?
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