There was a time not so long ago when Republicans actively sought the votes of American Muslims and won big majorities among them.
In 2000 the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council endorsed George Bush over Al Gore and Ralph Nader.
Shortly after Bush’s inauguration Kerri Houston of the American Conservative Union said that Muslim voters delivered Florida for President Bush. She wrote, “Muslim-Americans nationwide voted for Bush by an 80 percent margin–closer to 90 percent in Florida.Without their thousands of votes in the Sunshine State, a newly inaugurated Al Gore would currently be proposing a new slate of excuses for picking the American pocket.”
Looking back at that election, Farid Senzai wrote in The New York Times in 2012:
It seems unlikely now, but Republicans long did a good job of courting Muslim voters, including in the 2000 election when George W. Bush reached out to the community. Al Gore, on the other hand, took Muslims for granted, to his detriment. Even in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, President Bush reached out to the community and condemned attacks against Muslims, making it clear that the terrorist attacks did not represent Islam or the views of American Muslim citizens. Yet specific policies, including the passing of the Patriot Act and the decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, caused many Muslims to shift away from the Republican Party.
Arab-American and South Asian-American Muslims, who initially supported Bush in 2000, switched overwhelmingly to the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, in 2004. Democrats further capitalized on this support with Obama’s candidacy in 2008. President Obama, for his part, has not managed to do much better in engaging the Muslim community, never finding it politically convenient to do so and consistently distancing himself.
In 2008 Colin Powell, who served as George W. Bush’s first secretary of state and who has described himself as one of a “dying breed” of Republican moderates, announced he was supporting Barack Obama over John McCain, partly because of the anti-Muslim bigotry he noticed among many of his fellow Republicans:
I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the [Republican] party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
But even in 2008 McCain had Muslim supporters. At a McCain rally in Woodbridge, Virginia, they (and other McCain backers) confronted a handful of people trying to stir up anti-Muslim feeling against Obama.
I don’t know how much Republican outreach there is to American Muslims these days, but GOP operative Grover Norquist is regularly accused by the far Right of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood (perhaps even more often than Obama is so accused).
Now we come to Republican Texas state representative Molly White. When a group of Texas Muslims came to Austin to meet with legislators, White posted this charming message on Facebook:
Today is Texas Muslim Capital day [sic] in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.
As Christopher Hooks of The Texas Observer wrote:
White sees the Muslims in her office as an enemy. One might make the assumption that Muslims looking to meet their elected representatives are a different subset than jihadis, but this is not within White’s power. Apart from the odd use of the Israeli flag—as if it were a wooden stake, to menace vampires—White’s desire to see every Muslim who has the singular misfortune to wander into her office pledge “allegiance to America” before they commune with an elected officeholder is insulting and dangerous for reasons that should be obvious. Only an idiot would demand White repudiate the butchers of abortion doctors every time she rose to speak about her [opposition to abortion] on the House floor.
…White’s words are a reminder that anti-Muslim bigotry is a core part of the worldview of the state’s far-right, which fears little more than Islam. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick boycotted the first prayer delivered by an Imam in the Texas Senate back in 2007. Last year, a hijab-clad reporter from UT-Arlington’s student newspaper wrote about her unpleasant experiences at the Republican Party of Texas’ convention. Cathie Adams, a former chairwoman of the state GOP, has been traveling the state educating tea party groups to the fact that important figures in the national Republican hierarchy and the intelligence community are secret Muslims.
Now, the Texas House has a leader not afraid to speak her mind—and that’s a frightening thought.