Last week, Muhammad Ali Hasan, a lifelong Republican and the founder of Muslims for Bush, announced he was switching parties because he is disgusted with the GOP’s tolerance of bigotry and adoption of thinly-veiled Islamophobia. Hasan and his family have raised money for Republican candidates in their home state of Colorado, helped GOP campaigns, and Hasan has run for public office on the GOP ticket. But after months of watching conservatives fan the flames of intolerance for political gain, Hasan had had enough, and wrote an open letter to the GOP published last Friday in the Huffington Post:
In watching this summer, with the promotion of Arizona’s SB 1070, calls to revoke the 14th Amendment, anger at the overturn of California’s Proposition 8, and lastly, aggressive protest against a mosque in New York City, I came to question how much the GOP values the vision of our American Saints, the Founding Fathers. Quite frankly, we are no longer the party of Constitutionalists.
Indeed, a ThinkProgress analysis found that 130 GOP members of the current Congress want to end birthright citizenship protected by the 14th Amendment, as do 39 percent of the incoming freshmen class. And most Republican politicians have supported SB 1070, while opposing marriage equality is, of course, a plank in the Republican Party platform.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Hasan said that “there’s obviously some bigotry in the Republican party,” but he does not believe that its leaders are bigoted. They instead see electoral opportunity in “the bigoted part of America,” Hasan said. For example, on the manufactured hysteria surrounding the non-existent threat of Sharia Law, Hasan said conservative politicians realize there are few Muslim Americans, so they say to themselves, “it doesn’t matter whether I win [Muslim] votes, but I’m going win the votes of the bigots.”
Hasan said the Tea Party movement, which he called “an American tragedy,” has provided an “umbrella” for bigoted Americans. “It started out as a fiscal conservative movement,” but was “hijacked by a movement of bigots.” Hasan believes that “this is the first time in a long that [bigots] have all been united under one umbrella, and that’s why they’re pushing all this power.” Republican leaders have co-opted this xenophobia for political gain, Hasan said, by advocating what he calls a “pro-security agenda”:
HASAN: I really do believe that Republican leaders and their activists are so hellbent on this pro-security agenda of protecting what America is to the point of kicking out Muslims, kicking out illegal immigrants, ostracizing gays. … There’s a lot of fear amongst them, and they’re completely running away from what Ronald Reagan stood for, and a lot of what George W. Bush stood for, in my opinion. [...]
This pro-security agenda appeals just as well to a bigot as a bigoted agenda does, and that’s been the uniting force. To me, a lot of bigots have come under the tea party wing. And then when married with the Republican Party, they all agree on a pro-security agenda.
Asked if he thought this “marriage” between mainstream conservatism and xenophobes would become a central element of the Republican Party going forward, Hasan replied, “that’s why I left. I would have stayed in the Republican Party if I thought it was going to get better.” Hasan — who is socially liberal and started a group called Constitutionalists For Gays & Immigrants to advocate for minority rights — said while Bush was “never going to be perfect on social issues,” he appreciated Bush’s strong public defense of Islam after the September 11th attacks. A fiscal conservative, Hasan hoped and expected that the GOP would move in a more tolerant direction on social issues, and has been disappointed when the party instead moved in the opposite direction.
Hasan said if Reagan were alive today, he would look at his party’s tolerance of intolerance and would say to them, “I’m very disappointed in you.”
Listen to the complete interview with Hasan here:
Asked for comment on Hasan’s defection, Suhail Khan, who conducted outreach to Muslims and other faith communities in the Bush White House, told ThinkProgress that he remains loyal to the GOP and does not believe the party nor the Tea Party movement harbor bigotry. Still, Khan acknowledged that “there are some fringe voices within the party who have very recently been attempting to shamelessly exploit some fears of the American public for partisan gain.” Most of the voices have “not been successful,” Khan said, pointing to failed GOP Senate candidates like Sharron Angle and Rick Lazio.
And asked about the conservative uproar surrounding the proposed Islamic community center in New York, Khan agreed that “the comments of both Sarah Palin and former speaker Newt Gingrich were very disappointing, very unfortunate.” He also condemned the “very reprehensible” and “racist” comments of former Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams, who called Allah a “terrorists’ monkey-god.” Khan, who now works for the Institute for Global Engagement, went on to chide Fox News host Glenn Beck for saying that 10 percent of Muslims of terrorists, saying “blanket statements” like that have “no basis in fact.”
Moreover, Khan lambasted conservative leaders who promote hysteria about Sharia law, saying, “there’s a threat of Sharia in this country like, I would say, a threat of alien cat abduction or grizzly bear attacks in downtown D.C.” Khan praised “brave” Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who publicly defended the rights of Muslims to build the New York center, and said most conservatives held the same views. Still, he acknowledged that conservatives who spoke publicly in defense of the center were in the minority, and Khan believes the looming election may have led many others to hold their tongue. Khan added that it “would have been great” for Bush to take a stronger stand this summer during the New York mosque debate.