Reactions to Roy Moore’s alleged sexual assault and Islamophobia signal a disturbing trend

There is an unsettling imbalance in our reactions to controversies that affect women and comments that marginalize Muslims.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore prays with ministers from around the state before the start of a news conference on the steps of the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. in 2006. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore prays with ministers from around the state before the start of a news conference on the steps of the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. in 2006. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Over the past few weeks, there’s been considerable backlash to the allegations of sexual assault against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

A slew of Republican lawmakers including Sens. Thom Tillis (NC), Bob Corker (TN), Susan Collins (ME), Bill Cassidy (LA), John McCain (AZ), and Moore’s would-be counterpart Richard Shelby (AL) have all spoken out against the candidate, some withdrawing their support and some asking Moore to step aside. McCain called the allegations “deeply disturbing,” adding that Alabama voters should have the opportunity to elect someone they can be “proud of.” And recently, ThinkProgress spoke with Republican voters in Alabama, many of whom now plan to vote for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones, citing their “disgust” and concern over the accusations of sexual assault against Moore.

Given the flurry of news surrounding Moore’s alleged past sexual assault, it’s easy to forget that the Senate candidate was a known Islamophobe long before the allegations of assault surfaced against him last month. In fact, Moore’s anti-Muslim bigotry has largely gone unchallenged throughout his entire career.

His bigotry in this area never held him back, and never threatened his prospects. Over the past month, I have found myself grappling with this reality. As a Muslim woman, I am reminded, almost every day, that Muslims are dispensable in American politics. American political leaders don’t seem to care about our well-being. We are cast aside, otherized, and demonized, over and over again, until we cease to exist as Americans, as human beings. 

As bigots go, Moore is extreme. His comments against Muslims are particularly stunning compared to the usual Islamophobic blather made by sitting members of Congress. Lawmakers like Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Mike Pompeo (R-KS) have called for spying on Muslims and have attested that Muslims are “potentially complicit” in terrorist acts. Their words are repeated so often that they no longer seem surprising. But Moore, a fierce Christian nationalist, has taken the bigotry several steps further — openly attacking the religion of Islam itself and arguing that only Christians are entitled to religious liberty, a statement he later retracted only when confronted by the ACLU. 

Moore has called Islam a “false religion.” He wrote an op-ed in 2006 warning against American Muslims serving in the military. In a 2009 speech to the conservative organization Council for National Policy, Moore said “the only thing I know that the Islamic faith has done in this country is 9/11.” He has said that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim American elected to Congress, should not be allowed to hold office, even comparing Ellison’s decision to take the oath of office on the Quran to taking the oath on Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

None of his words, however, prompted widespread outrage in the halls of power. In fact, Moore climbed the political ladder to becoming a Republican Senate candidate quite quickly. And as a candidate, Moore didn’t stop spewing fear-mongering falsehoods about Muslims and the supposed threat they pose to the United States. He told Vox in August that “there are communities under Sharia law right now in our country.”

But after Moore won Alabama’s Republican primary in September, just one leading Republican spoke out explicitly against these comments about Muslims.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is retiring at the end of the year, took to the Senate floor in October to voice his opposition to Moore’s candidacy. “When a judge expressed his personal belief that a Muslim should not be a member of Congress because of his faith, it was wrong,” Flake said. “That this same judge is now my party’s nominee for the Senate should concern us all. Religious tests have no place in the United States Congress.”

Flake’s fellow Senate Republicans dodged questions about Moore.

Then, something seemed to shift for many prominent Republicans. After the Washington Post broke news of Moore’s alleged past as a child predator, slowly but surely, Republican leaders found their words. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed the women accusing Moore. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, said “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said the allegations against Moore were “credible,” calling on the candidate to withdraw from the race.

To be clear, the GOP’s denouncement of Roy Moore has not been universal or full-throated. There has not been a concerted effort to isolate Moore and to pronounce, unequivocally, that such behavior has no place within the Republican Party. The Republican National Committee has continued to funnel money to Moore’s campaign. The President of the United States officially endorsed Moore for public office — and he and his spokespeople have continued to casually weigh the pros and cons of Moore against his opponent Doug Jones, as if this race were simply a matter of policy. 

But as insufficient as Republicans’ condemnations were, compared to the relative silence surrounding Moore’s longtime Islamophobia, the criticisms have felt resounding.

We’ve been here before. One of the defining features of Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency was his Islamophobia — from his obsession over Barack Obama’s ancestry (as if being Muslim, which Obama is not, somehow makes you less American), to his vow to halt all Muslim immigration to the United States, to his suggestion that some mosques in the country should be shut down. None of these egregious statements hurt his campaign. In fact, they fueled it and he eventually became the Republican nominee.

Then, in October 2016, news of the Access Hollywood tape broke. I remember the outrage among both Democrats and Republicans alike when the tape revealed Trump’s apparent admission of sexual assault. I remember seeing news coverage about it for days, a nonstop loop of Trump’s vulgar words. I couldn’t recall the same level of coverage given to his promise to ban Muslims and his claims that “Islam hates us.

Islamophobic comments like Moore’s and Trump’s, unfortunately, are nothing new in the sphere of American politics, particularly within the Republican Party. We’ve heard similar offensive statements from Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Michelle Bachman, and more, as The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart recently reported. What is new, Beinart argued, is that it’s no longer political suicide to make such statements. In fact, as our notoriously Islamophobic president has proven, voters may even reward you for it.

It’s a hard reality to face — knowing that, in 2017, a politician can repeatedly assault your dignity and humanity, and not only get away with it unscathed but actually increase their chances of winning.

Trump won the election on on the backs of Muslims, immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and, yes, women. Moore could be next.