Lagging in the polls, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came from behind ranting Mexican migrants. Trump exploited a real topical complex issue to mobilise the White Republican base and rode to the top of the ticket deriding Mexicans.
Ben Carson was however more inventive. He created a fictitious candidate to rally the same delusional crowd. Carson declared that the Muslim faith could disqualify a person from being a US president.
Within days, Carson crowded Trump to the top of the Republican ticket by bashing the imaginary Muslim candidate. Even though there was none, Carson made the “Muslim candidate” the hottest topic for US news and talk shows outdoing Trump’s sordid attacks against Mexican immigrants.
In one of his tirades, Carson claimed that “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official,” and warned against the creeping Muslim “Sharia.”
Never mind that Carson must not understand that Islamic jurisprudence even in Muslim majority countries clearly states that “non-Muslims are not required by law to follow Islamic religious or social standards (Sharia).”
Academically speaking, the Republican candidate’s baseless concerns over the Sharia are hogwash and cheap electioneering demagoguery; unless Carson plans to become a Muslim and move to a place governed by the Sharia. But even then, he will have difficulties. There are at least 50 Muslim majority countries around the world where the vast majority are not governed by Sharia.
Instead of arguing a very unlikely fictional scenario, Carson should be most troubled by his support to American policies, like the invasion of Iraq when the US replaced a very secular constitution with a new dominated by religious authorities.
Carson should also know that the only secular democracy in the Middle East is a Muslim country: Turkey. The other widely acclaimed democracy, Israel, is a Jewish and not a secular democracy.
In propagating fear mongering to indulge the ignoble Republican Evangelist base, Carson brings up unintentionally an important issue: Religion and the Constitution.
It is indisputable that religions across the board are not compatible with many aspects of the US constitution. But it is not the imaginary Muslim candidate who is a threat to the constitution. It is the Republican contestants who have made religion an important part of their candidacy and are attempting to subjugate the US constitution to their belief.
Recently, Carson along with most Republican candidates rallied behind Kim Davis, who preached her own definition of “God’s authority” to subjugate the law of the land and refused to issue same sex marriage licences in Rowan County, Kentucky.
Carson explained to Fox news that Davis was right to defy the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the US constitution. “This is a Judeo-Christian nation in the sense that a lot of our values and principles are based on our Judeo-Christian faith,” he said. Translating to how faith should guide “a public official” in conducting their life.
Putting aside Carson’s xenophobic demagoguery and his pandering to the extreme right-wing Republican base, it would be worth noting that women were elected to head two of the world’s most populous Muslim countries – an ambitious reality women in the US are still struggling to achieve more than a decade later.
When John F Kennedy’s faith was questioned in 1960, he eloquently said “… it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew – or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist … Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you.”
Neither faith nor race is an indicative of a good leader. Kennedy was a good example. An anti-abolitionist with the “right faith” could have succeeded in mobilising Carson’s reactionary crowd a century ago. Ironically, Carson, the black man, couldn’t have qualified to vote in that election.
Mr. Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes weekly newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.