Muslim Americans responded with a mix of frustration and anger to what many see as a growing wave of Islamophobia fuelled by two of the Republican Party’s most popular presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
At the Islamic Institute of Orange County, which houses a mosque and a school in Anaheim, in southern California, tensions were already mounting since a group of white men screamed at mothers and children arriving at the centre on this year’s anniversary of the September 11 attacks, calling them cowards who did not belong in America.
Many of the country’s 2.8 million Muslims say such tensions could become uglier during a presidential race that they fear is already tapping a vein of anger and bigotry.
“It’s pretty troubling that someone running for president would make those claims,” Zuhair Shaath, a Palestinian-American, said of Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who on Sunday said Muslims were unfit for the presidency of the US.
Carson’s campaign defended his comments on Monday, saying he was not suggesting a Muslim should be barred from running for president. But his campaign said he would not advocate for that person becoming a leader and would not support it.
Later on Monday, Carson said he “absolutely” stood by his comments but would be open to a moderate Muslim candidate who denounced radical Islamists.
The remarks by Carson, who is near the top of opinion polls for the crowded field of Republican candidates for the 2016 election, followed billionaire Trump’s failure to challenge comments made on Friday by a supporter who labelled US president Barack Obama a Muslim.
Can fear of Muslims increase one's chances of gaining political power? - RWhttp://t.co/oLLnN4dJ8W— ROI Against Racism (@ROIsaysno) September 22, 2015
Trump later clarified his silence, saying he was not obligated to correct an audience member and that “the bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberties are at stake”.
Some Muslims say they fear that the remarks could strengthen the appeal of Carson and Trump, who have cast themselves as non-politicians in a race in which blunt comments laced with misogyny and xenophobia have done little to derail the popularity of Trump, who is leading in opinion polls of likely Republican voters.
The comments also come after a 14-year-old Muslim boy from Texas was taken away in handcuffs last week for bringing to his Dallas-area school a homemade clock that staff mistook for a bomb.
Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest sparked allegations of racial profiling and turned his school into an object of online outrage that culminated with Obama inviting Mohamed to the White House fir a visit.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called on Carson to “withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution”.
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