CHICAGO - I have voted ever since I came of age at 18. I still remember voting for Ross Perot while I was away at college at Marquette University.
But ever since then, I have been a Republican. I have even been a committeeman and assistant committeeman in my local Republican Party organization. And in 2000, my wife and I both well remember when I left her in labor at the hospital long enough to go and enthusiastically cast my vote for George W. Bush.
I have always been attracted to the GOP and have felt most at home in the party of Abraham Lincoln. After all, I do live in the Land of Lincoln. More importantly, I like the Republican Party’s traditional ideals: Government should not dictate to people what they do in their own personal lives; government should not intrude on people's privacy; taxes are the people's money and should be handled with the utmost care. Moreover, my socially conservative views are welcome in the Republican Party, and I do not feel ridiculed as I sometimes do when I engage Democrats in conversation.
But in the past seven years, I have had a tremendous identity crisis as a American Muslim Republican. And after much gut-wrenching contemplation, I have decided to leave the Party.
On September 11, 2001, many people turned their ire on innocent Muslims (and even non-Muslims) in "revenge" for the attacks. To their credit, President Bush and then-Mayor Giuliani explained to the country that the enemy is not fellow American Muslims. President Bush even visited a mosque in Washington, D.C. But those days of unity vanished, and I began to feel more and more isolated within the Republican Party.
I couldn’t help but notice when Republicans across the country began hateful attacks against my religion -- labeling it "evil” and “ wicked," the Prophet Muhammad as a "terrorist," the Quran as a book that advocates killing innocent people. The prominent response from President Bush and other Republican leaders was silence -- deafening silence.
For a time, President Bush himself equated Islam with fascism by calling our enemies "Islamo-fascists." By 2004, most Muslims I knew "abandoned ship," left the Republican Party and voted for John Kerry. I, too, voted for Kerry, mainly because of the Iraq war, but I stayed in the Republican Party. I wanted to stay where I had heretofore felt comfortable, and I felt the GOP needed patriotic, moderate Muslims in its ranks.
But the feeling that the Republican Party did not want me in its ranks grew, and came to a head during the current presidential race.
When Rudy Giuliani was the presumed frontrunner in the race, he insisted we call the enemy "Islamic terrorists" – instead of fanatical extremists -- as if he wanted to highlight their Muslim faith. Meanwhile, Tom Tancredo defended his sensationalistic anti-Muslim TV ads, saying, "There are people in this country who are preaching hatred from mosques. There are people who are planning to do bad things beyond getting the jobs that other Americans don't want."
And when Senator McCain was asked about a Muslim running for president, he said, "I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith."
Despite all this negative sentiment toward Muslims, I wanted to give my party one last chance: I waited to watch the Republican National Convention. I was disturbed by what I saw. There was Rudy Giuliani again, ridiculing the Democrats for not calling the terrorist enemy "Islamic terrorists." Then Gov. Palin ridiculed Sen. Barack Obama for being a community organizer. The crowd loved it all.
Now, I am horrified to hear screams of "terrorist," "traitor," and even "kill him!" coming from the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies. At one campaign event, when a woman told Senator McCain, "I don't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's an Arab." McCain corrected her saying, "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." Does that mean that Arab-Americans are not decent, family people?
But there are more reasons for my consternation than the many anti-Muslim and anti-Arab messages emanating from the Republican Party these days. Here are a few:
• How could the Administration illegally wiretap ordinary Americans without a warrant, without a peep of protest from most Republicans? Anyone opposing this practice is labeled as being "against listening in on terrorists" by the Administration and its supporters.
• How could we still hold hundreds of detainees in Guatanamo Bay without trial and charge, even though this has been repeatedly repudiated by the Supreme Court? Gov. Palin derided this as wanting to "read terrorists their rights."
• How could Republicans support tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans while spending billions of dollars on a war that should never have been waged, putting the country further and further into debt?
The Republican Party of today is no longer the Party of Lincoln. President Bush, the national Republican leadership, and their supporters have ruined the Republican brand and abandoned its core principles. I cannot, therefore, remain a Republican, and I write this with a great deal of sadness.
If the Republicans regain their principles, they can again bring true value to the political debate of this country and can again appeal to many moderate citizens – Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and writer living in Chicago. He is co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Doubleday).
Copyright © 2008 Hesham A. Hassaballa – distributed by Agence Global