Politics

We Asked GOP Candidates About The Surge In Anti-Muslim Violence In The U.S. Then Things Got Awkward.

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Raoux

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015.

LAS VEGAS, NV — Minutes after attending a forum hosted by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum praised Americans for their tolerance of Muslims in the wake of multiple attacks claimed by operatives of the terrorist group ISIS.

“It’s remarkable, given the attacks that we’ve seen, that America has embraced the Muslim community,” Santorum told ThinkProgress in response to a question about increased attacks and threats against Muslim Americans since the Paris terror attacks.

There have been at least 42 violent attacks, threats, assaults, protests, and instances of vandalism against Muslims in America since the Paris attacks. These anti-Muslim incidents have occurred despite virtually every major Islamic group in the country condemning the attacks by ISIS, a group which proclaims itself to be Islamic.

In addition to attacks and threats, there has also been a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric within the Republican party. The top Republican presidential candidates have compared Syrian refugees — most of whom are Muslim — to “rabid dogs,” toyed with the idea of a Muslim national database, and seriously debated temporarily barring Muslims from entering the United States.

While this rhetoric has seemingly been helpful for Republicans in the polls, it has made addressing the reality of increased anti-Muslim violence in the United States undoubtedly awkward. When ThinkProgress asked Republican candidate Rand Paul about that violence on Monday, he immediately pivoted to border security. “If we want to defend ourselves against a war on terror, we have to focus on the border,” he said, before outlining broadly his terrorism strategy. Pressed further to specifically address violence against Muslims in America, he pivoted to Donald Trump. “It’s a mistake, as Trump has put forward, to have a religious test to have Muslims into the country,” he said.

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul takes questions from reporters on December 15, 2015.

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul takes questions from reporters on December 15, 2015.

CREDIT: Emily Atkin

Santorum also seemed wary to answer questions directly about attacks on Muslim Americans. During his speech at Gaffney’s event on Monday, he implied that the Muslim religion was inherently dangerous, arguing that threats coming from within the Muslim world were “old and constant,” derived from “fundamentalist strict adherence to teachings within their holy books.”

Later, when asked by ThinkProgress about anti-Muslim incidents, Santorum praised the majority of Americans who he said had “embraced” the Muslim community, and said any attacker must be “disturbed.” But when asked if he was concerned about the increased reports of attacks and threats, Santorum didn’t condemn it specifically, instead condemning all violence.

“I’m concerned about any time we see an attack on innocent people — mosques, churches or anything else,” he said. “So yes, I’m concerned about it, I’m concerned about the attacks on churches, too.”

The reason for the awkwardness is pretty clear: Many on the political left have blamed Republican politicians for inspiring the acts of violence through their rhetoric. After describing a death threat he recently received, Muslim American Rep. André Carson (D-IN) said last week that the “rise in Islamophobia” can be linked to the “demagoguery” of Donald Trump. In a piece for the New York Times, the Council on American Islamic Relations’s executive director in San Francisco cited “the dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric from some politicians” while describing the sense of fear in her community.

“Muslim women are discussing whether it is safe to wear their headscarves and what religious exceptions may apply, when such a symbol of their faith puts their lives are at stake,” she wrote.

During Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, every candidate was asked about the threat of what CNN’s moderators called “Islamic extremism.” Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration was widely discussed; as was the importance of avoiding “political correctness” when talking about the perceived threat of Islam. Candidates were not asked about the surge in violent acts against Muslims in America.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, however, did assert that anti-Muslim rhetoric could be harmful to fighting ISIS, warning that the United States would not be able to win without the support of the Muslim community.

“We can’t dissociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims,” Bush said. “If we expect to do this on our own, we will fail.”