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The GOP has a Muslim problem

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
August 29, 2012 -- Updated 2037 GMT (0437 HKT)
A worker changes the signs on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday.
A worker changes the signs on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Leaders of many faiths to speak at RNC, except, glaringly, an imam
  • Some Republicans spread hate against Muslims and immigrants for political gain, he says
  • Obeidallah: This fear-mongering creates an environment that inspires violence
  • He says RNC Chairman Reince Priebus should ask a Muslim-American imam to speak

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-director of the upcoming documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy

(CNN) -- A Catholic priest, a rabbi, an evangelical minister, a Sikh, a Greek Orthodox archbishop and two Mormon leaders walk into the Republican National Convention.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But the Republican Party's decision to invite representatives from all of these faiths to speak at this week's convention, but to exclude a Muslim-American imam, is anything but funny.

The Republican Party has a problem with Muslims. Of course, American Muslims can take some solace in the fact that we are not the only minority group that the Republican Party hardly welcomes.

Let's be honest, if you don't like Muslims, blacks, gays, immigrants or other minorities, which political party would make you feel most comfortable? Sure, some Republican officials are minorities, but a recent Galllup survey found that 89% of the Republican Party is white.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

To be clear, I don't believe that most rank-and-file members of the Republican Party hate Muslims. The problem is that certain Republican leaders have stoked the flames of hate toward American Muslims, and other minorities, as a political tool to motivate people to support their cause.

For example, recently Rep. Michele Bachmann -- along with four other Republican House members -- asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the U.S. government. Bachmann, who is in a tough re-election battle in her redrawn congressional district, even "named names" by claiming that Secretary Hillary Clinton's top aide, Huma Abedin, and Rep. Keith Ellison were connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although Republican Sen. John McCain publicly denounced Bachmann's baseless allegations, just a few weeks later, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh escalated the fear-mongering. Walsh, who is in a tight race with Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth, told constituents at a town hall meeting in the Chicago suburbs that there are radical Muslims living among them who are plotting to kill them: "One thing I'm sure of is that there are people in this country -- there is a radical strain of Islam in this country -- it's not just over there -- trying to kill Americans every week." Walsh even claimed that this Muslim radical was in his district: "It's in Elk Grove. It's in Addison. It's in Elgin. It's here."

And let's not forget that during this year's Republican presidential primaries, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain told voters that American Muslims want to impose Islamic law in America. It's a truly astounding task when you consider that this would require the 2.6 million Muslims in the U.S. to overpower the other 300 million Americans and implement an Islamic legal system. Obviously, this assertion is not based on facts, but to politicians desperate for votes, facts don't matter.

This type of rhetoric has yielded two distinct consequences. First, it can be seen in the attitudes of Republicans who have been poisoned by the anti-Muslim voices in their party. A recent poll found that 62% of Obama voters view American Muslims favorably, but only 34% of Romney voters shared that positive outlook.

Even more alarming is that fear-mongering by politicians can create an environment that inspires violence against the people being demonized. It sends a message that these people are "others" and not truly Americans like the rest of us.

For example, within a few weeks of Bachmann's comments, a suspicious fire destroyed a mosque in Missouri. And days after Walsh's warnings that Muslim terrorists were living in the Chicago suburbs, a homemade acid bomb was thrown at an Islamic school, pellet gunshots were fired at a mosque, and Muslim headstones at a cemetery were defaced with anti-Muslim graffiti, all in the Chicago area. It's impossible to know whether these hateful acts were related to the remarks, but the climate created by fear-mongering does not encourage tolerance.

Getting back to this week's Republican Convention: The Republican Party should be applauded for including so many faiths, especially the Sikhs, who number about 200,000 Americans and whose community was targeted by a hate-filled gunman who killed six people in a place of worship. But excluding Muslims sends a message that American Muslims are not part of the fabric of this country. That is wrong.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus still has time to correct this mistake. He could invite a Muslim-American imam to be a part of this week's convention. That would send a clear message that the Republican Party is truly welcoming of all major religions practiced in the U.S.

It also would send a message that there is no place for hate in the GOP against any American minority group. It's now up to Preibus to show whether the Republican Party stands for inclusiveness or division.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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