Once relegated to the right-wing fringe, the current era of Islamophobia is bleeding into mainstream politics and quickly becoming a defining leg of the GOP platform. Last night at the GOP presidential debate, political reporter Josh McElveen prodded the GOP field on this issue. Pointing out Herman Cain’s refusal to appoint Muslims to his administration, McElveen asked Cain whether “American-Muslims as a group less committed to the Constitution than, say, Christian or Jews?”
Cain recently asserted that, because Islam is more dangerous than any other religion, Muslim appointees should take a loyalty oath to the Constitution. Last night however, Cain walked back his anti-Muslim sentiment which, he said, focused solely on Muslims that “are trying to kill us” and the phantom threat of “Sharia law in American courts.” Mitt Romney firmly rebuked Cain’s delusion, stating “of course, we’re not going to have Sharia law applied in U.S. courts. That’s never going to happen.” Then, without prompting, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich piped in to espouse the loyalty oath and — to justify his claim — pointed to the U.S.’ anti-communist paranoia and persecution during the 1940s as effective strategy:
GINGRICH: I just want to comment for a second. The Pakistani who emigrated to the U.S. became a citizen, built a car bomb which luckily failed to go off in Times Square was asked by the federal judge, how could he have done that when he signed — when he swore an oath to the United States. And he looked at the judge and said, “You’re my enemy. I lied.” Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period. We did this — we did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists. And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.
The way the government “dealt with the communists” in the 1940s is generally known as the U.S.’ second Red Scare. Beginning in 1945, the House Standing Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) conducted hearings of Hollywood actors that led to more than 300 artists — including Charlie Chaplin — being blacklisted and boycotted by the industry. HUAC also subpoenaed several African-American witnesses to testify and denounce All-American football player, lawyer, and actor Paul Robeson “in order to obtain future employment.” Robeson was subject to scrutiny after he made public statements that African Americans would not fight “an imperialist war.” Called before HUAC, Robeson told committee members, “you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Widely considered a dark period of hyperbolic zealotry in American history, it is astounding the former House speaker — a historian himself — would voluntarily espouse this unbridled paranoia as “gutsy,” let alone appropriate. No stranger to whipping up public paranoia over his perceived infiltration of an outside threat like radical Islam, Gingrich now looks less like a president and more like a senator. Specifically, Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
President George W. Bush’s 2004 strategist Matthew Dowd was none-too-pleased with Gingrich’s Nazi/Communist comparison. “He is appealing to the basest instincts of a very small minority of folks,” said Dowd. “Either he is doing this for political purposes to distract people from a campaign in disarray, which is bad, or he actually believes it, which is scary.”