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Ben Carson: Islamophobe Extraordinaire

Recent statements by Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson offer another glimpse of Islamophobia in America. Coming within several days of the wrongful arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed and Muslim bashing at a Trump presidential rally, Carson’s words only make tough times tougher for Muslims in the United States, which also translates into tougher times for African Americans.

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DonkeyHotey/Flickr cc

Labeling Carson an “Islamophobe Extraordinaire” is no slur, since by his own admissions he harbors fears about Muslims; extraordinary that a wealthy African American, barely decades away from his race having gained the right to vote, would dare utter these words aloud.

That Carson can even run for president was a joke for blacks not too long ago. In his autobiography, Malcolm X describes a grade-school teacher who told him that being president was “not realistic for a nigger.” Today, Carson reiterates that ugly message, only now “Muslim” is the new “n” word and kids like Ahmed, the audience.


According to Carson, the U.S. Constitution and Islam are incompatible, and therefore a Muslim could not garner his support for president. Here, Carson’s view sits at odds with the Constitution itself since, as Yale Professor Akhil Reed Amar has noted, the Constitution goes out of its way to insist that the federal government is open to persons of all faiths or no faith in particular.

This is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Carson points an accusing finger at Muslims for disloyalty to the Constitution without so much as blushing at his disregard for its very words: “But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

In light of Carson’s disavowal of Muslims, his decision to run for president leads to two distinct considerations. On one hand, he implies that his Christian beliefs would not interfere with his duties as president or his understanding of the law, whereas for a Muslim it would; on the other, and perhaps more sinisterly, it propels a civil religious ideology that views Christianity and the U.S.A. as one.

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Yet conflating America and Christianity tends to overlook Christianity’s foreignness. Many forget that Jesus and his disciples spoke in a language that is much closer to Arabic than English; many also forget that Christianity originated in the Middle East, just like Islam. Somehow these realities have been lost on Christians, including that the holy land has been torn by war and strife, yet few seem preoccupied. The same indifference might lead some to assume that Yeshua bin Yusef is the name of an al-Qaida leader rather than the traditional name of Jesus, son of Joseph.

More intriguing in Carson’s case is the fact that his own DNA testing has revealed that he descends from the Makua people in Africa. Here it is significant to note that Sunni Islam is among the religions practiced by these people, which, of course, leads to the shocking conclusion that despite his rhetoric, Carson himself might be of Muslim descent.

Despite the uncertainties about Carson’s religious pedigree, it is without doubt that many African slaves brought to America were Muslim, and some could read and write in Arabic. Although the bulk of Muslims arrived in America via the Atlantic slave trade, one can’t help but speculate on the pure irony of Carson tracing to Muslim roots.

Whether Carson’s words are a failure to comprehend his own ancestry or, more menacingly, a means of garnering Islamophobic votes, they do nothing but damage. Such reckless verbiage only opens the door to discrimination in turn. His ignorance-based fears are particularly unfortunate since race relations between African American and immigrant Muslims have been less than robust. It also sends a covert signal to blacks that they now finally have a doormat to call their own: After centuries of oppression, they have “moved on up.” The problem is that many African Americans are Muslim.

Because of this fact, his words are likely to be discounted by African Americans. Muslims are no strangers in black communities; historically, African Americans have comprised the largest segment of the Muslim population in the United States. Communities know about the Nation of Islam, about the outreach of Muslims in American jails and prisons, not to mention the many hip-hop icons who express admiration for Louis Farrakhan. This history suggests that Carson’s words will gain little traction among blacks.

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That Carson could seriously be considered as a presidential candidate is an anathema to conservative principles. His blatant disregard for the Constitution is an attack on the bedrock principle of religious freedom. At its outermost extreme, it sends the message that equality has once again given way to invidious discrimination in America.

That Carson himself could be a Muslim descendant turns a historical fact into something laughable — which is exactly how his candidacy should be viewed. Whether one cherishes the right to religion or to no religion at all, his radical vision stands as a potential threat to everyone. Although his invective is directed at Muslims, far more is at stake. Americans must therefore not support a fanatic like Carson, who embodies the very extremism that he fears so much.

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  • About the autor

    SpearIt is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding and author of the ISPU report: Facts and Fictions about Islam in Prison: Assessing Prisoner Radicalization in Post-9/11 America. He is also an Associate Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University.

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    • phil

      Everyone is free to support who they want as President. Carson said he would not support a Muslim. Not a thing wrong with that. “Judge nothing until the time when the Lord will comes who will reveal the counsels of the heart, and each ones consequences come from Christ Himself.” And, “Every knee will bow and Every tongue confess, ‘Christ is Lord.'”

    • PHI

      A new rag?

    • Jenna Lee

      So, lets be clear. Ben Carson, when asked ‘should faith matter’ in choosing a president (or perhaps a presidential candidate) , said, “If its inconsistent with the values and principles of America then of course it should matter. ” Carson doesn’t believe Islam is consistent with the Constitution. He ‘would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. ‘

      What Carson did not say “No Muslim should have a right try to be President” . Which is the right of any American citizen. Of course the catch-22 is that, while no religious test be ‘required’ to hold office,inevitably the fourth and fifth estates reveal the religion of each and every contender for a political crown. Fifty years ago, none would expect a black man could be President. 100 years ago, none would expect a Roman Catholic would be President – JFK was elected 50 years later.

      Ben should have a chat with Andre Carson(D), and discuss Ben’s misconceptions and shortcomings. I suspect Ben doesnt realize that according to a 2014 PEW Research Poll in America, Muslim profile similarly to Christians in terms of devoutness to religion and to the state. Ben Carson is a retired doctor – he’s got plenty of time to find out about the real truth of Muslim communities.

    • Michael Knapp

      Unfortunately, like most Islamophobes, Ben Carson (as the author here points out) is ignorant of the Islamic faith he criticizes, and appears (like many politicians) to want to pander to other ignorant people in a pathetic attempt to gain conservative support. I foresee Carson’s campaign, like Trump’s, will soon decline the more Americans (most of whom are not at either of the political extremes) realize that Carson is grossly unqualified to be president.

    • Sam

      Like many extremist he blatantly ignores that which is inconvenient in the documents he holds sacrosanct.

    • Ben not ideal candidate never admit this insecure about reality of color perception all riddles whom going. Entrance of “White House” selected corporate warrior ignoring
      policies union “bureaucracy” Bernie trying. Dissuade majority your not “heritage well your liar for one! Assume your vocation going win acceptance forget it remarks taken
      literally so what stance. Economic partnerships of “Middle East” for EU where tired of them looking different geographical markets. Ben if you win shall take refugees of Syria?

    • Samir Kabir

      So everybody, let’s not vote for him. If you are registered to vote.