Herman Cain is one of the lesser known candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination for president of the United States. As such, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza knows that he must build name recognition if his campaign is to gain traction. Cain, unfortunately, has chosen to demonize Muslims as a quick way to win that attention. It's an appalling decision.
His contention that cities have a right to ban mosques, recently stated in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and then repeated on a national TV news show Sunday, appeals to bigotry and intolerance. While his words have raised his public profile, his talk is so inflammatory and so un-American that his party should condemn his rhetoric as extremist and his candidacy as divisive. So far, GOP leaders have not done so.
The vexing situation in Murfreesboro should be familiar. The Muslim community there, as is its right, wanted to build a mosque, a house of worship, as well as a school and swimming pool for women. There was opposition, however. Some opponents argued that planning and zoning rules were not followed in the approval process. Though the town council said otherwise, that's a legitimate position on which to oppose the mosque.
Others, however, turned to far more vile means to protest the presence of the mosque.
There was heated and hateful discussion about Muslims and mosques at public meetings. There were acts of vandalism and threats of more at the construction site. And, most ominously, there was talk about how Muslims in Murfreesboro (and, by implication, elsewhere in the United States) want to inject their religious beliefs and Muslim extremism into everyday American society. Cain regrettably seized on the latter to promote his campaign.
His argument is full of holes. He says that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, called Sharia law. He's absolutely wrong, though, that Muslims want to impose Shariah law on the United States. Regardless, Cain says that is reason enough for communities to oppose the building of a mosque. He's apparently forgotten what the Constitution says on such matters.
His talk is a thinly veiled attempt to tie peace-loving, law-abiding U.S. Muslims to the terrorist activities of a relative handful of their co-religionists. There's nothing to suggest that is the case. There is plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite.
Most U.S. Muslims publicly denounce Muslim terrorists, and many serve proudly and bravely in the armed forces. Indeed, Muslims on the whole are energetic participants in the social, civic, economic and public affairs of their communities and the nation. To suggest otherwise - as Cain does - purposefully muddles constitutional principles and long-standing American values for personal and political gain.
Cain can say what he wants, but he has no role to play in Murfreesboro. A judge has ruled that building the mosque won't bring harm to residents. He did allow opponents to argue that officials violated open meetings rules when they approved construction. That issue is moving forward. That's the American way. The case should rise or fall on its merits, regardless of the hateful comments of a politician.