Would you like a spot of Islamophobia in your tea? It seems that a few of the Tea Party’s representatives in the midterm elections concluded that voters would like their favorite drink brewed with very hot anti-Muslim spices.

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“He is the only Muslim member of congress,” Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips, a Tennessee attorney, wrote in an e-mail to supporters in which he urged them to help defeat Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) because of his Muslim faith. “The Quran in no uncertain terms says some wonderful things like, ‘Kill the infidels’,” wrote Phillips. “I have a real problem with people who want to kill me just because I’m the infidel,” he continued, expressing support for Ellison’s opponent, Lynne Torgerson, an independent candidate.

“What do I know of Islam?” Torgerson wrote on her website. “Well, I know of 9/11. Nineteen (19) men from Saudi Arabia, all Muslim, hijacked planes and flew into the two (2) World Trade Towers murdering thousands of people, and tried to fly into our Pentagon. … People say that we can’t include the moderate, peace loving Muslims. Well, I agree. But, who are they? … I cannot tell. It is not for me to go and try and find them. Rather, it is their duty to stand up and identify themselves, if there are any.” Case closed.

Then there was Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who told a crowd of supporters in Nevada that Americans must address a “militant terrorist situation” that had supposedly allowed Sharia, the Islamic religious law, to take hold in some American cities.

During a rally in the resort town of Mesquite, Angle was asked by a supporter about reports of an alleged Muslim plan to extend the Caliphate into North America. “I keep hearing about Muslims wanting to take over the United States … on a TV program just last night, I saw that they are taking over a city in Michigan and the residents of the city, they want them out,” he told Angle. “So, I want to hear your thoughts about that,” he added.

Angle responded that “we’re talking about a militant terrorist situation, which I believe it isn’t a widespread thing, but it is enough that we need to address, and we have been addressing, it.” Muslims, she suggested, have already imposed their religious law on areas of the country.  “My thoughts are these, first of all, Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas are on American soil, and under constitutional law. Not Sharia law,” she explained. “It seems to me there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a foreign system of law to even take hold in any municipality or government situation in our United States.”

While Dearborn, Michigan, does have a thriving Muslim community, Frankford, Texas, which was annexed to Dallas in 1975, doesn’t. According to Wikipedia, Frankford now consists only of a small church and cemetery. Dearborn mayor Jack O’Reilly, who criticized Angle for her comments, noted that there was no Sharia law in Dearborn and the issue was never raised by residents. “Muslims have been practicing their faith in our community for almost 90 years without incident or conflict,” he said. “To suggest that they have taken over ignores the fact that Dearborn hosts seven mosques and 60 Christian churches.” Well, never mind.

But members of the Tea Party movement should mind. It is not clear that bashing Islam and Muslims offers electoral rewards to Republican candidates. Angle was defeated in Nevada, which, to be sure, had more to do with her offending Hispanics rather than Muslims. Ellison, an African-American who was born and raised Roman Catholic and converted to Islam later in life—and who isn’t actually the only Muslim member of Congress—was elected for a second term to represent a district with very few black or Muslim residents.

And while Tea Party darling Kristi Noem, riding to victory as a Republican House candidate in South Dakota, accentuated during her campaign her opposition to building a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site, it was her anti-Obama message and personal appeal to the mostly conservative voters in her district that brought about her success. At the same, Carl Paladino, a Tea Party favorite running for New York governor who messaged the “Ground Zero Mosque” issue to death as he ran against an unpopular Democrat in an economically distressed state, is not going to spend the next four years in Albany. Unlike Noem, the defeated Paladino was just a lousy candidate.

Historically, the Republican Party has been the beneficiary of the Muslim vote, reflecting the conservative cultural values and business sense of a large number of American Muslims. Close to 80 percent of American Muslim voters backed George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. But by 2004—three years after 9/11 and against the backdrop of American-led wars in two Muslim countries—the Republican president had lost about half of his support among Muslims. Indeed, 85 percent of Muslim voters backed Barack Obama in 2010, the most solid voting bloc among any major religious group. With 79 percent of them voting for Obama, American Jews, reflecting their traditional support for Democratic candidates, ended up being proportionally the second largest pro-Obama group, a sign that while pursuing the aggressive neoconservative agenda in the Middle East has antagonized American Muslims, it has failed to win over Jewish voters.

Even in the aftermath of 9/11 and at the height of the War on Terror, President Bush and his aides refrained from defining their Middle East agenda as a clash between the West and Islam and initiated numerous public relations campaigns aimed as distinguishing between radical Islamists and the moderate majority of Muslims at home and abroad. But Obama’s efforts to reach out to Muslims overseas by promoting diplomatic engagement with Iran and embracing a more balanced U.S. position on Israel/Palestine, coupled with controversies over Islam at home, have led some Republicans, including members of the Tea Party, to conclude that exploiting anti-Muslim sentiments could produce electoral gains.

While the notion that America has been gripped by Islamophobia is exaggerated, the controversy over the mosque near Ground Zero, the threat by a loony Florida pastor to burn the Koran publicly on 9/11, and online peddling of the absurd view that Obama is Muslim seemed to create a political environment on the eve of the midterms in which criticism of Obama for his domestic economic agenda could be integrated into a larger narrative in which the president—the son of a secular Kenyan Muslim and who had spent some of his childhood in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country—was not only a big-government liberal but psychologically un-American, if not a closet Muslim plotting the fall of the United States and the West.


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