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Dear conservatives: We need your help to stop Islamophobia

Okay conservatives. We need your help.

Islamophobia is big news this year. Ever since Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shocked the world by proposing a ban on Muslim immigration into the United States in late 2015, virtually every news outlet — ThinkProgress included — has relentlessly covered the subsequent uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.

For all the attention the issue is getting, however, relatively little has been said about how to fix it. There have been inspiring examples of Muslim Americans working to change the hearts of those who hate them, but specific suggestions for how to end the rising tide of anti-Muslim vitriol usually boil down to “don’t let Trump win.”

But if we really step back and examine the problem, one of the quickest ways to help combat anti-Islam sentiment is painfully simple: conservatives need to step up and rebuke it.

“One of the quickest ways to help combat anti-Islam sentiment is painfully simple: conservatives need to step up and rebuke it.”

To be sure, liberals aren’t immune to Islamophobia, or anti-religious sentiment in general. Prominent commentators such as Bill Maher and Sam Harris proudly claim the mantle of liberalism while railing against Muslims in ways that are blatantly Islamophobic. Though progressives have condemned them, much more work remains to be done. Islamophobia is everywhere.

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But recent polling makes it clear this hatred has dug its deepest roots into one place: the Republican Party. According to recent data from PRRI, a full 79 percent of Republicans believe Islam is at odds with American values, and 64 percent voiced support for Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration. Another recent poll found even worse results, reporting that 76 percent of the GOP — the party that pledges in its platform “to defend the religious beliefs… of all Americans and to safeguard religious institutions against government control” — either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s okay to bar an entire religious group from entering the United States.

Republicans are quick to dismiss Trump’s proposal as a ploy — but even if Trump’s position stops at rhetoric, the rise of this rhetoric has already wreaked havoc in the lives of American Muslims.

Incidents of Islamophobia have skyrocketed over the course of this election, with America’s tiny Muslim population falling victim to a disproportionate number of hateful attacks. Mosques all over the country have been vandalized or desecrated. Muslims — or those perceived to be Muslim — in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania have been beaten. Others in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Grand Rapids, and New York City have been shot. And just this past weekend, a mosque was burned in Florida, and a Muslim woman in New York City was set on fire.

Not all of the perpetrators were necessarily conservative, of course. But when armed gunmen stand outside of mosques in Texas to protest the mere existence of Islamic houses of worship, they wave the campaign signs of Ted Cruz. And when a woman assaulted a Muslim woman in Washington, D.C. in April, she justified the attack by citing Donald Trump.

This is a problem — not just for America Muslims, but also for conservatives, and for America at large. It’s a systemic, embedded issue that threatens to undermine the very nature of our republic. And it’s not a problem progressives can fix by lobbing criticisms across the aisle, or even by winning an election. It’s only getting worse — unless conservatives do something to stop it.

“This is a systemic, embedded issue that threatens to undermine the very nature of our republic, and is only getting worse — unless conservatives do something to stop it.”

Practically speaking, Republicans have much to gain by rejecting anti-Muslim sentiment. Standing up for religious minorities — especially when they’re under threat of violence — should not be a partisan issue. America’s hyper-polarized political sphere notwithstanding, it benefits both parties when law-abiding religious people have a right to worship freely, unmolested by government, police, or their neighbors. Conservatives have been making this argument for years, often in ways progressives see as overstepping their bounds. But now is your chance to find common ground with your left-leaning countrymen and women on the First Amendment: acting against Islamophobia might be one of the few ways Republicans can curry favor for the “religious liberty” causes they purport to hold so dear.

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(There are electoral benefits as well: until Republicans began using anti-Islamic rhetoric to try and win elections in the early 2000s, Muslims actually voted for the GOP in droves. Reject Islamophobia, and the GOP could earn a significant vote bank in places like Michigan.)

This means conservatives should resist Islamophobia in places where liberal voices ring hollow, such as pushing back against the ludicrous argument in some right-wing circles that Islam, which is practiced by over a billion people, is somehow a not a religion but an “ideology.” It means condemning states and towns that try to ban Muslims from erecting houses of worship. It means decrying the theological hypocrisy of Christian colleges that threaten to fire professors because they dare to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but remain silent on whether they would act similarly if the same were said about Christians and Jews. It means calling out Republican politicians when they wade into anti-Muslim rhetoric, such as when Ben Carson suggested that a Muslim should not be president, or when Senator Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush suggested only allowing Christian refugees from Syria to enter the United States, or when Sen. Marco Rubio proposed shutting down mosques.

And, yes, it means not electing — or at least rejecting — Donald Trump. But that alone won’t be enough; the hatred will almost certainly outlive his candidacy, and will require a sustained effort to quell.

“Yes, it means not electing — or at least rejecting — Donald Trump. But that alone won’t be enough; the hatred will almost certainly outlive his candidacy, and will require a sustained effort to quell.”

Some conservatives are already giving voice to this. Earlier this year, Russell Moore, head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked how he, as a conservative Christian, could possibly support rights for Muslim Americans. His response outlined precisely what is at stake for conservatives who ignore the plight of their Muslim American neighbors.

“What is means to be a Baptist is to support ‘soul freedom’ (religious freedom) for everybody,” he said. “And brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says we can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship, then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build.”

But as inspiring as Moore’s comments were, it’s not enough. Republican voices against Islamophobia must be louder in order to dissuade their party from resisting the siren song of using anti-Muslim sentiment to garner votes, arguing that maybe, just maybe, the entire point of political ideologies and parties is to stand for something, not just doing whatever you can to win power. The Republican Party even says as much in the preamble to its platform, which reads: “We believe America is exceptional because of our historic role — first as refuge, then as defender, and now as exemplar of liberty for the world to see.”

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If Republicans and conservatives writ large truly believe that America is exceptional, then they have a moral responsibility to enact that exceptionalism whenever and however they can — even if, or perhaps especially if, it means protecting those of another faith.