Like most Americans, I began thinking about presidential candidates by determining their views on the issues that I cared about the most. Due to my immigrant Muslim-American identity, I was chiefly concerned with social values and foreign policy. But I found it increasingly difficult to choose between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Insofar as the Republicans championed conservative social values, I was attracted to their leadership, and, insofar as the Democrats challenged a hawkish foreign policy, I gravitated towards them. However, when I thought primarily as an American, rather than a Muslim or a humanitarian, I turned Republican because the party represented the moral hope for America, the country where I would like to raise a family. But then I witnessed the rise of Islamophobia through the Republican ranks just prior to the 2008 elections. Colin Powell’s denunciation of this sentiment convinced me that as a Muslim-American I should favor the Democrats. My desires for a traditionally religious America were outweighed by the threats and insults I feared as a Muslim-American.
Unfortunately, the Islamophobia continues to grow. Not only has the political culture turned more Islamophobic, it is now expected that the candidates opine on “Sharia.” The problem is not that they are not equipped to discuss Sharia, rather that their analyses seem intentionally simplistic and hateful. The two Republican candidates who best capture this tendency are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. along with being foreign policy hawks, they also cast undue suspicion on Muslim-Americans, presumably thinking that it will get them more votes. Whether their assumption is true or not, I feel so alienated from their platforms that, despite some congruence over issues of public morality, any reconciliation will not be likely in the immediate future.
In this environment some prominent Muslim-Americans have considered supporting a different brand of American conservatism, what Hamza Yusuf has called the “progressive Right.” And given the trajectory of my political sympathies, I think I can appreciate their thinking. Let me try to explain.
First, divide American conservatism into these ideal-types; paleo-conservatives, with their emphasis on limited government; neo-conservatives, with their emphasis on an aggressive foreign policy; and social-conservatives, with their emphasis on traditional values.
Neo-conservatism is unattractive to me for the obvious reasons. Social-conservatism is distasteful insofar as it is colored by Islamophobia. Santorum, the leading representative of social-conservatives, is probably the most Islamophobic of all the candidates. Not only is he woefully ignorant, but also very bellicose. Though he is not alone in being a “buffoon” or a “fear monger,” he is possibly doing the most to alienate Muslim-Americans from the socially conservative section of the GOP.
Thus, what I am left with are the paleo-conservatives, and their candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
I assume most Muslim-Americans will support Paul because of his foreign policy views on Iran, Afghanistan and war. But more crucially, I am attracted to his paleo-conservative tendencies, even if his radical libertarianism might give me some pause. Not guilty of Islamophobia, a non-interventionist, defending civil liberties, consistently pro-life, not willing to subsidize abortion, and uninterested in regulating sexual behavior without abandoning a traditional view of marriage, I think Paul’s nuanced message on the relation between law and morality should resonate with many Muslim-Americans.
In sum, most versions of conservatism, because they are not hostile to religiosity, are, in my opinion, compatible with the ethical worldview of many religious Muslim-Americans. The only obstacles that personally keep me from becoming an enthusiastic Republican are the party’s idolatrous and jingoistic tendency to turn interventionist and Islamophobic. Whether Paul gets nominated or not, I hope the Republicans are able to return to their original paleo-conservative roots.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore