I am a Muslim, an immigrant and a Republican.
I have been privileged to contribute to the well-being of my fellow Americans in the field of medicine, education and research. But I am disappointed with the party of Lincoln — the party that attracted me 31 years ago because of its emphasis on family values, individual responsibility and small government.
In recent years, like Muslims in the United States, I have been on the receiving end of GOP leaders’ attacks on our faith. Republican policies over the past decade now have led to the nomination of an unqualified, racist, xenophobic and thrice-married nominee, Donald Trump.
In 2006, in a tough congressional campaign, Rep. Peter King chose to vilify Muslims. I was labeled an extremist, and in a letter to voters in his district, King wrote: “People like Dr. Khan are insinuating themselves into our political system.” Then King held hearings in Washington, D.C., to study the “Radicalization of American Muslims.” King said then that 85 percent of mosques were controlled by extremists, that Muslims did not cooperate with law enforcement, and they did not adequately condemn the terrorist attack of 9/11.
Nothing useful came from King’s accusations, and they only served to alienate Muslims. Then, during national elections in 2008 and 2012, we heard Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and ethically challenged and thrice-married Newt Gingrich talk about creeping Sharia law, Muslim terrorists, and so on. The attacks were widely perceived as an attack on all Muslims and became a potent recruiting tool for terrorists like the Islamic State.
In the past year, this narrative became the norm in the GOP primaries, and now we hear about banning all Muslims from entering the United States, in essence imposing a religious test. I sometimes wonder whether leaders who promote such proposals understand our Constitution. We also have heard attacks against Mexicans in the country illegally, the disabled, women and pretty much everyone who is not a white male. These divisive, irresponsible comments trigger unsubstantiated suspicions and anger against respectful communities and create a bleak, dreary future for Americans.
I recall with admiration the day President George W. Bush held a news conference at the Islamic Center of Washington after the 9/11 attacks. Flanked by Muslim community leaders, he said, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.” Bush made it clear that the U.S. war was against evil, not against Islam. Unlike the current crop of GOP bigots, he showed respect for Muslims. Contrast that with this blatant lie by Trump: “Thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Looking ahead to the November election, I am reminded of the 2000 New York senatorial election, when Rick Lazio attacked Hillary Clinton for being too close to Muslims. This motivated Muslims in New York to mobilize voters, which helped Clinton win. The GOP has done the same in this election cycle. In the swing states of Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, the Muslim vote will play a key role, as it did in 2000 when Bush won Florida by 537 votes, and thousands of Muslims in that state voted for him.
In November, I’ll vote for Democratic candidates and hope the new GOP that emerges after its defeat will focus on the greatness of the United States — its pluralism, tolerance, democracy, rule of law and open society.
Faroque A. Khan is a regent of the Islamic Medical Association of North America and a trustee of the Islamic Center of Long Island.