Republican presidential hopeful Dr Ben Carson wouldn’t want the United States of America to elect a Muslim as its President. For someone who a thousand and one times during high school was urged to read his inspirational books, and as many times promised to but regrettably never did, I am a disappointed admirer.
I did read snippets from Gifted Hands and Think Big, and the impression I got was that of the triumph of humanity and unrelenting effort over cultural prejudice. But now the good doctor would have us believe that though an American can have gifted hands and think big, if he is a Muslim, he should not even consider leading the United States of America.
This is the epitome of self-contradiction, and it is even more impressive coming from an American of his stature and in an age where his country is headed by a black man. Quoting Article IV of the Constitution, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has asked Ben Carson to resign from the race and promised him a Quran to help him obtain a better appreciation of the Prophet’s Way.
Will that solve the problem? No. These are overzealous pronouncements, the kind we’ve come to expect from a world ruled by Facebook and Twitter, which tend to oversimplify a more complex issue. The proposals fail to understand the problem, and so provides a solution which can only work in fantasy. Carson’s is a sample of a larger mind-set.
At its core the larger American fear of Islam has crystallised into a fear of Muslims themselves, and the negative stereotype has become entrenched to the extent that the religion would be used to judge a candidate’s viability for the top seat. The problem is not that Americans fear Islam or don’t understand Islam. It’s that the version of Islam they have been shown is worthy of fear and misunderstanding.
What Nihad Awad and his colleagues at CAIR should be doing instead is asking Americans with Muslim friends if they trust them — they’ll probably be very surprised by what they find out — rather than defending a religion whose most prominent representatives to most Americans are ravaging terrorists.
But that aside, I come from a continent where a number of countries are headed by Muslim Presidents. In April, Nigeria, a country with more Christians than Muslims according to recent reports, elected Muhammadu Buhari as President in a largely seamless democratic process. He came in as a replacement to the one-term presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian.
The country has oscillated, with a few hiccups — and none related to the religion of the candidates — between Muslim and Christian presidents in its short democratic history. Obassanjo was replaced by Umaru Yar’Adua, who was replaced by Jonathan, who has now been replaced by Buhari.
Granted, there are way more Muslims in Nigeria, and they’ve been there longer, but the truth is that Muslims routinely vote for Christians, and Christians likewise routinely vote for Muslims. Nigeria is not without problems related to the Muslim presence and Boko Haram continues to menace its North, but America can learn a few lessons from it.
In Kenya, a country that hasn’t been spared its share of trouble from Islamist jihadists, four cabinet secretaries are Muslims. The President is Christian, some may argue, but the very important Foreign Ministry is headed by Amina Mohammed, a Muslim. If anything, the Muslim Cabinet Secretaries have shown themselves to be just as capable as their non-Muslim counterparts.
What Ben Carson needs is this kind of exposure, just as black kids from underprivileged backgrounds needed to be exposed to stories like his to know they could make it in the world. He needs to see that Muslims are people too, and that they are just as capable of leading a nation. A copy of the Quran cannot do that.
Americans were once afraid, some still are, that a Catholic President would take orders from the Pope on how to run the country. But they elected John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s and he proved as independent on secular matters as any president could have been. If the prejudice had had its way, America would have been deprived of one of its most illustrious Presidents.
It might be a while until we see a Muslim President of the United States. Perhaps it might never come to pass. But Carson ought to know that should one come to power, he can only rule within the bounds set by the Constitution. If he tries to overstep these limits, there are means within the same Constitution to prevent him, like any other president, from doing so. Carson’s, therefore, is an unfounded, and particularly embarrassing, paranoia.
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