Can Rick Perry maintain his good ties with Muslims as a GOP candidate?
As governor of Texas, Rick Perry has a long record of warm relations with Muslims. Could that be a liability in a GOP presidential field in which several candidates question US Muslims' loyalty?
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“People are saying things they can’t say about anybody else in society,” he added, comparing some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric to “nasty, ugly things” political candidates said about African Americans during the Civil Rights era.Skip to next paragraph
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If Perry were to reverse course himself, he would be walking away from a long record of good relations with Muslims. As governor he signed off on several Muslim-friendly pieces of legislation, including a consumer protection law ensuring the accurate labeling of food products as halal, or conforming to Muslim dietary restrictions.
And for years, Perry has been close friends with the head of the Ismaili sect, Aga Khan, whom he met in Paris in 2000. Since then, Perry has attended a number of Ismaili events in Texas, brokered a few agreements between the state and Ismailis (including the legislation introducing Islamic curricula into Texas schools), and even laid the first brick at the groundbreaking ceremony for an Ismaili worship center in Plano in 2005.
Perry’s relatively good relations with Muslims have already sparked distrust among some conservative bloggers.
In a nominating race where every candidate is vying for the Christian conservative vote, a critical part of the GOP’s base, Perry will likely be criticized for his relationship with the Muslim community in Texas, says Professor Green.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in the Republican primaries the whole issues of appropriate relationships with Islam comes up,” he says. “Other candidates or faith-based interest groups would criticize the governor for that. There are groups that are very concerned about these issues.”
Although it was planned long before Perry was considering running for president, his Christian prayer rally was just the sort of event that would reassure religious conservatives about Perry’s evangelical credentials, added Green. The event, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” saw between 15,000 and 22,000 worshipers, including several controversial religious leaders, gather in Houston’s Reliant Stadium for a seven-hour-long Christian prayer rally with a decidedly conservative Christian bent.
Muslim Americans say they are looking to Perry to set a more inclusive tone in the nominating contest.
“The American people are looking for someone who can solidify and bring people together,” says Carroll. “To continue to polarize the nation is not good for America.... We don’t want a leader ... who polarizes and uses fear-mongering to garner political favor and votes.”