Muslim gains in political life slow, unsteady

By: Anthony Moretti

February 2022

News out of the United Kingdom and the United States over the past few days has served as reminders of how far Muslims must go in order to be fully accepted into public political life.

In the UK, Nusrat Ghani, a Conservative Minister of Parliament, claims she was booted as transportation minister in 2020 because she’s Muslim. In an interview with a British newspaper, she said her “Muslimness” was one of the reasons she had lost her post. In an even more provocative statement, Ghani added she was told she was “making colleagues uncomfortable.” An internal investigation has begun, though it’s unclear what will result from it. 

We shouldn’t be surprised by Ghani’s accusations against her political allies.  According to the Guardian, which did not conduct the interview with her, 40 Conservative politicians throughout the UK had “shared or endorsed racist inflammatory Facebook posts” throughout 2019. 

There’s been substantive research about the anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim discourse involving European politicians. In one such study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Katarina Pettersson explored the sanctions leveled against three far-right Finnish politicians for their vile rhetoric from a few years ago against the Prophet Mohammed and Muslim girls, while also aligning with the trope that Muslims are the only ones who commit acts of terror. Pettersson found that the trio were successful in framing themselves as “brave defender(s) of the nation and its people.” Therefore, despite the legal problems they faced, only one of the three ultimately faced expulsion from her political party. 

The situation for American Muslim politicians also demands scrutiny. There are currently only three Muslims in the U.S. Congress; Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, is the most prominent largely because she’s regularly subjected to hate speech from inside and outside political circles. 

A few days ago, a leading Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said if his party takes over control of the House of Representatives in 2023 and he becomes Speaker of the House then he will seek to remove Rep. Omar from the committee assignments she currently holds.

When asked why, Rep. McCarthy said, “Ilhan Omar should not be serving on” the Foreign Affairs Committee apparently because she once criticized pro-Israeli lobbying groups. Granted, both Republicans and Democrats sharply criticized her for her remarks, but Rep. McCarthy is now targeting Rep. Omar simply because she’s Muslim.

Retribution also must be considered a factor; remember, it was roughly a year ago that Democrats stripped Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, from her committee spots because of her previous support for nonsensical conspiracy theories. Greene apparently didn’t learn her lesson because late in 2021 Muslim Advocates condemned her for a series of tweets about Muslims. 

Muslim Advocates also noted that before she was elected, “Greene visited the Capitol and tried to force Reps. Omar and Rashida Tlaib to re-swear their oaths of office on a Bible instead of a Quran.”

These assaults on Muslim politicians in two countries are important reminders that Muslims remain “the other” in the minds of too many people inside and outside the halls of power. We who refuse to accept such labels must offer consistent support for such politicians, no matter the party to which they belong. Yes, the political positions they hold and the votes they cast are fair game for review and criticism, but none of us can stay silent when personal attacks – based solely on the politician’s faith – take place.

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