The most significant anti-Islam action of the 2014 midterm election, Alabama’s Amendment 1, was approved by voters. Alabama is the eighth state to approve a law intended to vilify Islam. The measure was inspired by Islamophobe David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts legislation, which stigmatizes Muslims as a group from which the US needs protection. In Alabama, two organizations – Christians against Amendment One and the Christian Coalition of Alabama – organized opposition to the measure citing its threats to international adoptions, marriage law and religious liberty.
A Harris poll conducted prior to the election found that “just over half” of Americans would not vote for a Muslim candidate. However, observed usage of Islamophobic rhetoric on the campaign trail was present, but significantly down, from the 2010 midterm election.
Prior to election day, Republicans in New Hampshire modified their state party platform, signaling their intent to push a legal measure intended to vilify Islam. While Republicans were overwhelmingly responsible for pushing anti-Islam prejudice during the election, three separate incidents in 2014 showed that the party will, at times, act against Islamophobia.
The use of Islamophobic discourse to exploit voters’ fears remains an acceptable component of political campaigns. The overall effectiveness of employing such tactics remains in doubt.
As in the 2010 midterm election, Republicans were responsible for the overwhelming majority of anti-Islam electoral prejudice. Outside of an electoral setting, however, the party held some public officials accountable for employing anti-Muslim prejudice in 2014.
This brief on the presence of Islamophobia in the 2014 election offers only a snapshot of major highlights and does not purport to be a complete record.
Anti-Islam Prejudice in New Hampshire and Alabama
Two state-wide anti-Islam acts were recorded during the 2014 midterm election.
In late May 2013, the Alabama legislature approved state Sen. Gerald Allen’s (R-Tuscaloosa) “The American and Alabama Laws and Alabama Courts Amendment,” a proposed change to the state’s constitution. The anti-Islam measure was placed on the November 2014 ballot for voters to approve or reject.
Known as Amendment 1, it was a version of the anti-Islam “American Laws for American Courts” legislative template authored by David Yerushalmi, who in the past headed a group which advocated for the practice of Islam in America to become a felony.
Sen. Allen’s previous anti-Islam legislative effort, publicly touted as a protection against Islamic religious principles, generated some comedic moments. In 2011, Alabama’s Anniston Star reported “…no one—not even Sen. Gerald Allen, who sponsored the bill—can point to examples of Muslims trying to have Islamic law recognized in Alabama courts.” Allen could not even define Sharia when asked, saying “I don’t have my file in front of me.” When pressed about why the 2011 Alabama bill’s definition of Sharia matched one found in Wikipedia, legislative staff “confirmed that the definition was in fact pulled from Wikipedia.”
Noting that the ballot measure would threaten international adoptions, marriage law and religious liberties, the organization Christians Against Amendment One opposed it.
The Alabama Christian Coalition similarly campaigned against the measure.
Dr. Randy Brinson, Coalition president, said of Amendment 1: “This is a tremendous waste of effort. It’s a waste of time and it costs money. […] My frustration is that people – good people – get behind something like this just because they want to score points with the Christian community. But it’s redundant – you don’t need to amend the Constitution to address these issues.”
This organized Christian opposition to anti-Islam policy is part of a welcome pattern observed in other states.
Additionally, University of Alabama Law School Professor Paul Horowitz pointed out that, like many similar anti-Islam bills nationwide, the Alabama measure “basically is redundant. It basically says we’re going to spend a great deal of time and money saying what is already the case. Kind of like passing a law saying the sky is blue.”
In September, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee revised their party platform.
Originally, the section on “Federalism” read, in part, “Oppose laws and programs contrary to our founding principles such as Sharia Law, the International Baccalaureate Program, UN Agenda 21 or other ‘sustainable development’ programs.”
The revised version more explicitly aims to pass a law targeting a minority faith for unequal treatment under the law. It says “Take any and all actions possible to protect against the implementation of any part of Sharia law in N.H., including legislation outlawing Sharia law.”
“Just over half” of Americans would not vote for a Muslim candidate
A Harris poll released in September 2014, reported that “just over half (52%) [of Americans] say they’d be either ‘not that likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ to consider voting for a Muslim candidate.”
Muslim Candidates Attacked for Faith
Muslim candidates are, too often, placed in a position of defending their faith rather than discussing their positions and how they would serve their constituents if elected to office.
Cathina Hourani, a Muslim candidate for the Ohio State legislature, received threatening phone calls after a local paper published a story about her candidacy.
When Zak Mohyuddin ran for a county commissioner seat in Coffee County, Tenn., his opponent alleged that Mohyuddin would remove “the Bible and the American flag from public places.” After an elected commissioner posted a disturbing anti-Muslim image, Mohyuddin invited the man to his home for dinner for what appears to have been a positive meeting. Mohyuddin lost his race.
Positive Examples of Officials Being Held Accountable for Prejudiced Remarks from 2014
Dave Agema, Michigan’s current Republican National Committeeman, has an extensive history of anti-Muslim speech – most recently in mid-October, when he referenced Arab pilots as “camel jockeys.” Though Agema has not stepped down from his post, Republican leaders across the country, including RNC chairman Reince Priebus, have insisted that he do so.
Former Virginia Republican Party treasurer Bob FitzSimmonds resigned after making anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. When President Obama lauded Muslims at the end of Ramadan for contributing to “the very fabric of our nation” and “strengthening the core of our democracy”, FitzSimmonds responded “Exactly what part of our nation’s fabric was woven by Muslims? What about Sikhs, Animists and Jainists? Should we be thanking them too?” Virginia’s GOP leadership pressured FitzSimmonds to step down.
Gavin Ellzey, the vice chairman of the Kansas GOP’s 3rd Congressional District Committee, resigned just a few hours after he tweeted “Offending Muslims is the duty of any civilized person, especially with a .45.”
Examples of Islamophobia from Federal and State candidates
Jody Hice (Republican candidate, Ga.) (WON)
Hice, a Republican from Georgia’s 10th District, won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also hosts a conservative radio program, The Jody Hice Show, and is a Southern Baptist reverend.
He advances the conspiracy theory that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the U.S. government to impose Sharia law on American citizens.
In his 2012 book, It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America, Hice wrote, “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geopolitical structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.” Hice’s book also references “devout Muslims” and “Islamists” as synonyms, that Islam and the Constitution “simply cannot co-exist”, and Europe’s Muslim population as “the problem.”
Hice made similar arguments in a 2011 speech during which he warned a Tea Party audience, “Most people think Islam is a religion, It’s not. It’s a totalitarian way of life with a religious component. He reiterated that “Islam would not qualify for First Amendment protection since it’s a geopolitical system.”
Hice’s offensive statements regarding Islam point to a more general history of bigotry. He claimed in 2004 that women should only be able to run for office “if the woman’s within the authority of her husband.”
Concerned Women for America – part of the U.S. Islamophobia Network’s outer core – endorsed and funded Hice’s campaign. Hice was also endorsed by outgoing U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.). In 2011, Broun expressed his exasperation when “a guy in Arabian dress” did not receive secondary screening in an airport.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) (WON)
Inhofe has served in the U.S. Senate since 1995.
Attacking what he deems America’s increasingly “secular culture”, Inhofe said in April 2014 that “Oklahomans…regularly ask me why we have an administration that suppresses our Judeo-Christian values while praising Islam.”
During a January, 2010, Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Inhofe said: “I believe in racial and ethnic profiling. …But when you hear that not all Middle Easterners or Muslims between the age of 20 and 35 are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners between the age of 20 and 35, that’s by and large true.” Similarly, Inhofe also opposed the Obama administration’s first federal judge appointee, David Hamilton, over suspicions that he was a “secret Muslim.”
After a 2009 speech in Cairo by President Obama, Inhofe objected to the president’s understanding that “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.” Quoted Inhofe, “I just don’t know whose side [Obama’s] on.”
Larry Kaifesh (Republican candidate, Ill.) (LOST)
Kaifesh is a Republican who challenged U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for the U.S. House seat representing Illinois’ 8th Congressional district. Kaifesh told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, “I think if you follow Islam the way Muhammad wanted you to, you will be intolerant of nonbelievers, you will support aggression and you will believe that there will only be peace in the world if the world is Islam.”
Larry Smith (Republican candidate, Texas) (LOST)
Larry Smith is a Republican who ran for the U.S. House seat representing Texas’ 34th Congressional District. According to Smith, “I do not believe in Christianity because I read a 2,000 year-old book. I believe in it because I have witnessed it first hand. And because I have witnessed Islam, I believe in it for what it really is: The death of humanity.”
Tim Donnelly (Republican candidate, Calif.) (LOST)
Tim Donnelly was the Tea Party’s candidate for governor of California. He lost in the primary election to Republican Neel Kashkari.
Donnelly criticized Kashkari in May 2014 for speaking at a U.S. Department of the Treasury event called “Islamic Finance 101”. Donnelly stated: “Given the recent stories and protests about the outrage of the discriminatory nature of Sharia law, we’re horrified that Kashkari would support Sharia anything.” Multiple Republican voters objected to Donnelly’s attack, suggesting that he was using Kashkari’s name and skin tone as a racist attempt to gather support.
Ala. State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) (WON)
Rep. Barry Moore is a Republican representing District 91 in the Alabama House of Representatives. He has held his seat since 2010 and was unchallenged in the general election.
A local Alabama newspaper, the Enterprise Ledger, obtained a secret recording of a phone call between Moore and his primary election challenger, Joshua Pipkin. Citing a series of his priorities, Moore attempted to persuade Pipkin to drop out of the race. One of Moore’s top priorities was to prevent Sharia law from encroaching on the American legal system, which is already prohibited via the Constitution.
Moore has since been indicted on felony perjury charges over allegations of lying to a grand jury, partly involving his conversation with Pipkin. An audio recording of the full phone call can be found here.
Miss. State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) (LOST, but retains state Senate seat)
Chris McDaniel has held the 42nd District seat in the Mississippi Senate since 2007. He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, losing to incumbent Thad Cochran in the primary election.
McDaniel’s bigotry has included, but has not been limited to, Muslims. In January 2014, Mississippi political blog Dark Horse Mississippi unearthed clips from 2006 and 2007 where McDaniel hosted a Right Side Radio episode. McDaniel said:
- “There’s one person that cannot be a villain in Hollywood, ever. One group that cannot be villains. Who is that? [Cohost: Muslims.] Yeah, isn’t that neat? They’ll go out of their way to find some Russian white guy that’s just nuts, and he’s the terrorist, which I’ve never seen that. But the Muslims, they’ve just disappeared from Hollywood’s radar.”
- “[Hip-hop] is a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can’t stand education.”
- “Imagine that: the boogieman having dark features… Darkness bad, light good. Isn’t that neat?”
A journalist for Mother Jones points out the subtext of McDaniel’s Islamophobic comments: that “political correctness is keeping Hollywood from properly stigmatizing Muslims”.
Okla. State Representative John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) (WON)
Bennett has been the 2nd District representative to the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2010. In 2014, Bennett was unopposed in both the primary and general elections.
Bennett has made national news for his Islamophobic comments this year. Following ISIS’ murders of two American journalists in early September, Bennett commented “The Quran clearly states that non-Muslims should be killed… Be wary of the individuals who claim to be Muslim-American. Be especially wary if you’re a Christian.”
After CAIR and other Muslim-American organizations repeatedly condemned ISIS, its violence and its anti-Islamic justifications for killing, Bennett suggested moderate Muslims might be lying. He stated “[Muslims] condemn acts against the innocent. You’ve got to read between the lines. ‘Innocents’ are only those following Islam.”
Interfaith leaders representing Oklahoma’s Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities spoke out against Bennett’s statements.
Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston, however, affirmed Bennett’s comments, stating “Everything John Bennett said is legitimate and there is no need for him to apologize. One look around the world today, and 1,400 years of history, and you can see what he says is accurate. …There are problems across the globe and throughout history with people who practice Islam”.
Despite the widespread criticism for his Islamophobic comments, Bennett went further. He claimed “Muslim-Americans who subscribe to Islam are just as bad as ISIS.”
Even before attracting attention for his Islamophobia, Bennett had a history of inappropriate comments. On August 25th, 2014, Bennett complained about the Obama administration’s handling of protests in Ferguson, Mo. via Facebook. Attacking the administration for sending a delegation to slain teenager Michael Brown’s funeral services, and not to that of a white politician, Bennett ranted: “Sunday, the White House announced they are sending a 3 person delegation to attend this thug’s funeral tomorrow! Didn’t the regime forget to attend the funeral of General Greene? Not one attended Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. But half of the regime attended [Nelson] Mandela’s!”
Okla. State Representative Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) (WON)
Mike Christian is a Republican holding the 93rd District seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Christian has been elected since 2008 and faced Democratic challenger William Molden in the general election.
On October 7th, Christian issued a press release condemning a letter sent by the Obama administration to the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. The mosque has recently been attacked by certain media outlets in the wake of a beheading at Vaughn Foods in Moore, Okla.
Christian states in his press release:
- “This is a mosque that seems to radicalize people… Something is going on at that mosque and the trend isn’t good for Oklahoma or this country.”
- “If President Obama really did send this letter… this may very well constitute obstruction of justice and may even be an impeachable offense. This is tantamount to an act of treason.”
- “Why do such a thing when it is clear that [the perpetrator] was obviously sympathetic to the extremist Islamic ways?”