Herman Cain’s Muslim comments are misguided

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain continues to display a gross misunderstanding of the ideological threat posed to our nation by Islamists. I am very disappointed that any candidate for president of the United States would say, especially after being given multiple opportunities for clarification, that he would “be uncomfortable hiring a Muslim in his administration.” One cannot help but question how those comments square with his understanding of the very United States Constitution that he seeks to protect. He somehow wants me, as an American Muslim, to be comforted by his explanation that he would still appoint Muslims but they would first have to meet some sort of constitutional litmus test. This is a line of thinking that directly conflicts with the constitutional prohibition that states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article 6, Section 3).

Make no mistake, the threat posed by radical Islam — domestically and internationally — has never been greater. As an American Muslim who has dedicated my life to defending the Constitution and founded an American Muslim organization to do just that against the threat of Islamism, I know that for our political leaders and policymakers to be visibly confused about the strategy necessary to counter the insidious ideology of Islamism (political Islam) is a major liability to our nation’s security. We surrender our strongest messaging as leaders of the free world if we approach Muslims as guilty of being Islamists until proven otherwise.

If Mr. Cain had simply said he would not hire an Islamist into his administration, just as our government was justifiably wary of hiring Communists during the Cold War, then that would have been perfectly understandable and appropriate from a national security perspective. But all Muslims are not Islamists and comments like Mr. Cain’s that intimate that our nation will consider my co-religionists to all be Islamists do not help the fight against Islamism. At Chairman Peter King’s Homeland Security Committee’s hearings on the “Extent of Radicalization in American Muslim Communities,” I testified that Islamist terrorism is only a symptom of a greater underlying threat from the Islamist ideology. But the threat emanates from a theo-political ideology, not the faith of Islam. The battle that needs to be waged is within the “House of Islam,” not against it. We need leaders who understand the complexities of this conflict and have the courage to define and take sides on the issue. How would a president who is perceived as distrusting Muslims from the get-go ever be able to functionally engage with the courageous Muslim reformers who are taking on political Islam and its power structure from a position of love for our nation and our faith?

If Mr. Cain and others in government and media need help telling the difference between Muslims who practice the faith of Islam (those who are part of the solution) and Muslims who are Islamists (those who are part of the problem), there are many Muslims who are more than willing to help him and others with that education. Our American Islamic Leadership Coalition was formed to begin that necessary public process.

The day we view all Muslims as the problem is the day we surrender the foundational freedoms that my family and most Muslim families came to the United States to enjoy. Islamists will win the war of ideas and we will lose if Muslims no longer see the U.S. as the “shining city on a hill.”

We need to find a pragmatic ground between an administration that currently seems to see no wrong with Islamists (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood) and potential administrations that see all Muslims as the problem.

I fear that any administration that targets all Muslims as potential Islamists first and asks questions second will fail to realize its policy objectives. Islamism is certainly a growing problem across the Muslim consciousness, as the recent developments in Egypt and elsewhere confirm.

Mr. Cain and others who may echo his concerns seem to forget that our founding fathers were devout Christians who fought against theocrats from within the devotional Christian community, not from outside it. America is not anti-religion; it is anti-theocracy. The only path toward victory is to support Muslims who are anti-theocracy and anti-Shariah law and believe in the separation of mosque and state.

Mr. Cain, Islam is a faith. Islamism is a political ideology. Mixing the two as a matter of policy not only goes against the very Constitution you and other candidates seek to uphold, it hamstrings any viable engagement of those leading Muslims who are on our side against Islamism in the greatest conflict of the 21st century.

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a medical doctor and a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at info@aifdemocracy.org.