Why I can't 'come out of the closet' as a Muslim Republican quite yet
Many American Muslims, myself included, believe in conservative ideals and fiscal policies. Rather than alienating potential allies, Republicans should shift their message to one of civility and inclusiveness, especially when it comes to Muslim Americans.
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Two stark reminders of the bigotry plaguing the GOP stand out: Last summer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota launched a McCarthy-esque witch hunt against American Muslims calling for investigations of Muslims working in the State department to determine their allegiances and whether they might be infiltrating the US government. And though time has passed, it’s hard to forget former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s May 2011 proclamation that he would not be inclined to appoint a Muslim as a member of his cabinet.Skip to next paragraph
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If Republicans still refuse to embrace American Muslims, they should at least learn from the last presidential election loss – that spewing what amounts to bigotry toward them, or others, is not winning the GOP votes from the broader diverse, educated, and independent electorate – votes that Republicans will need to remain competitive in the future.
And Republicans may find natural allies among Muslim Americans. From an ideological standpoint, there are some obvious points of overlap between Muslim-American values and conservative ideals, including the importance of traditional family values, self-reliance, and a pro-life stance. In many respects, most Muslims in America are as religious as Christians here. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, 69 percent of American Muslims say that religion is very important in their lives, compared to 70 percent of Christians.
In many ways, the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad are consistent with conservative values of entrepreneurship and small government. For example, the prophet was a businessman and worked as a trader for most of his adult life. Upon establishing a government, he introduced a nominal tax rate (2.5 percent) on “net wealth.” This tax was an incentive to discourage hoarding and stimulate investments – not just to run government and redistribute income – as capital machinery, factories, and equipment were exempt from taxation.
And according to the Pew study, 20 percent of American Muslims are self-employed or small business owners, compared to 17 percent of the general public.
To win the hearts and minds of the American people in the years to come, it is time for Republicans to show leadership by either educating or eradicating the toxic voices within the party. Ronald Reagan, despite his shortcomings, was never short on respect for the individual, had an ability to disagree without being disagreeable, and lived the values of being a uniter and not a divider.
If the GOP embraces Reagan’s values of civility and inclusiveness, then I, along with other “closet Republicans” who represent America’s rich diversity will step out and be prepared to wholeheartedly support a revived Republican party.
Zargham Shah has been an investment banker and is a student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. An immigrant from Pakistan, he first came to the United States with his family at the age of three and is now settled in Chicago with his wife and two children.