Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Islam emerges as key issue for GOP

March 09, 2011|By Dan Gilgoff, CNN

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wants a federal ban on Sharia and opposes a proposed Islamic center near ground zero.

A conservative activist who served in George W. Bush's White House, Suhail Khan has lately found himself at odds with certain figures who should be allies, like fellow activists on the right and some leading lights of the Republican Party.

Khan, a Muslim, has chafed at recent remarks about Islam from potential Republican presidential contenders like Sarah Palin, who has called on "peaceful Muslims" to oppose a proposed Islamic center near New York's ground zero, and Newt Gingrich, who has called for a federal ban on Sharia, or Islamic law.

Khan supports the New York Islamic center and says there's no threat of Sharia taking hold in the United States.

Then, last month, as he presided over a strategy session at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Khan was repeatedly interrupted by right-wing activists accusing him of having ties to the Islamic Brotherhood, the Islamist political party based in Egypt.

In recent days, Khan has gone on the offensive, meeting with Republican staffers on Capitol Hill and urging old friends to help halt or dramatically alter the direction of Republican Rep. Peter King's hearings on "radicalization in the American Muslim community," which begin Thursday.

"How did we go from the majority of American Muslims supporting Bush in 2000 to the very misguided comments of people like Palin and Gingrich and these King hearings," Khan asked in an interview this week.

While opinions vary on the propriety of Palin's and Gingrich's remarks and King's hearings, there appears to be a dramatic uptick recently in Republican rhetoric around Islam and Muslims.

In the run-up to last November's elections, Republicans including Palin and Gingrich weighed in against the proposed New York Islamic center, while Oklahoma voters approved a Republican-led effort to ban Sharia law (though the ban was blocked by a federal judge).

In the months since, roughly a dozen other states have started weighing bans on Sharia, with all or almost all of those efforts led by GOP lawmakers.

Other high visibility Republicans have criticized Islam or aspects of the religion or the Muslim community. Mike Huckabee, likely a 2012 presidential candidate, last month called Islam "the antithesis of the gospel of Christ" and criticized congregations that allow mosques to use their churches for prayers.


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