It’s not difficult to find examples of the Tea Party’s Islamophobia problem: there was Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams who stated that the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” was meant for “worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god,” the Phoenix Tea Party leader who said that “anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country,” and Republican Florida Congressman Allen West, who said that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion.” But now, at least one member of the Tea Party, Muslim-American Will Coley, is fighting the anti-Islam sect of the group in Tennessee with some success.
Coley, a convert to Islam, noticed the shift toward Islamophobia a few years ago: “literally overnight I saw groups devoted to economics and constitutional limits turn into something else. Suddenly there were invites to see anti-Islam speakers. This crazy anti-Islam message was taking over.” Coley co-founded a group called Muslims4Liberty and has confronted anti-Islam activists head on. Illume Magazine documented Coley’s efforts:
“He also began doing outreach to local Tea Party groups. His original intention was to focus on educational basics about Muslim belief and practice, such as the Five Pillars and the Qur’an, as well as Muslim artwork.
The sudden announcement in the press of anti-sharia legislation in the Tennessee House and Senate changed everything.
“[We] changed the format of the Islam Awareness lectures at the library. Since sharia had become the issue, we decided to devote each week to covering a different area or aspect of sharia,” says Coley. “We invited two Tea Party groups. One cursed at me, called me names and said I was Muslim and therefore they had no interest in speaking to me or hearing anything my ‘lying mouth’ had to say. The other invited other Tea Party groups.”
The talks made an impact: during a later meeting of East Tennessee Tea Party groups, 12 out of 14 voted to “abandon attacking Islam as a tactic.”
Just last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a letter urging Republicans to move away from the Islamophobic stance that has taken hold of the party. The group pointed out that “mainstream Republican candidates have questioned our loyalty and even threatened to undermine the Constitution in efforts to exclude us from the political process, all without any pushback from party leaders.” CAIR recently detailed that nearly 86 percent of Muslim-Americans they polled voted for President Obama and only four percent voted for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. This discrepancy occurred despite the fact that nearly forty-two percent of those CAIR polled said they were independent voters.
Other Republicans like Coley have rejected anti-Islam extremism as well. Last week, Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam told a group of Republicans that a Muslim-American adviser of his had “been incredibly unfairly maligned,” adding, “We believe in people having the freedom in our country to exercise their religion as long as it doesn’t violate the Constitution.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made similar comments about critics of a Muslim-American judge he nominated, saying, “it’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”