The Republican Identity: Patriot or Insurgent?

One has to wonder what would drive the Duke College Republicans to host an event called “The American Muslim Identity: Patriot or Insurgent?” After all, since this is the same party that decries identity politics so clearly, I doubt the talk is meant to help Duke students better understand the relationship between American Muslims and the Republican party. 

Additionally, the most powerful leader of the Republican party, Donald Trump, has a well-known distrust for Muslims as exemplified by his desire for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”—something that was only hindered by a pesky little thing called the U.S. Constitution. Thus, it’s unlikely that the campus Republicans would stray so far from the views of its national leader to celebrate the American Muslim identity.

One could also surmise that this campus event is not meant to bring College Republicans and College Muslims together to understand each other’s identities, given that the Muslim Students Association was not even consulted in the formulation of this event, as per the MSA’s March 29 statement.

Duke College Republicans organized this event for the purpose of reinforcing the view of American Muslims as mysterious, and possibly dangerous, wild cards. It’s part of a whole host of clever tactics that Republicans often use to advance insidiously racist ideas through seemingly academic and patriotic concerns. 

None of the Duke College Republicans have claimed that all Muslims are insurgents. But hosting a speaker who presents a rigid fear-mongering dichotomy for American Muslims as either patriots or insurgents speaks volumes about the group’s unrefined views on American Muslims. Never mind that M. Zuhdi Jasser, the so-called expert coming to campus today, has no academic background in Islamic studies, religious studies, sociology and political science—or that he has admitted his lack of expertise in Koranic arabic and Sharia law. 

By inviting such an “expert,” the Duke College Republicans has fabricated a path to validate and reinforce their simplistic views. More problematic fringe views can be expressed at their behest, but with words coming out of Jasser’s mouth instead of their own. They can thus distance themselves from his most disturbing rhetoric, avoiding any social risk to themselves, while ensuring that the inflammatory sentiments are expressed nonetheless. They are utilizing the same feigned degrees of separation shtick that Donald Trump uses to legitimize conspiracy theories, often about Islam and other political opponents.

Whatever the method, the result is the creation of a bogeyman that can be blamed for all of America’s problems; when this bogeyman is defeated, America will be allowed to regain some mythical past greatness. Since the days of the unequivocally racist Southern Strategy, Republicans have been experts at demonizing racial and religious minorities as threats to America and its democracy. Trump’s entry into politics—informally through his delegitimization of America’s first black president, and formally through his nonchalant condemnation of Mexican immigrants as rapists—simply threw away the subtleties and veils that allowed Republicans to discuss their opinions without appearing indecent. Not only does this creation of a terrifying non-white “Other” stir up the emotions needed to get White Americans to the voting booth, but it also diverts attention from the real threats to America and American democracy: Republicans themselves.

As the Republicans (falsely) cry out about how illegal immigrants voting en masse threatens the sanctity of the ballot, it’s Republicans in Virginia and North Carolina and Wisconsin and elsewhere that engage in blatant voter suppression. As the Republicans trumpet the infallibility of the U.S. Constitution in efforts to protect their beloved weapons of war, it’s Republicans who continue to support a man who, with his various travel bans, alleged violations of the Emoluments clause and blatant obstruction of justice, basically treats the U.S. Constitution like 230-year old toilet paper. It’s Republicans who threaten democracy by gerrymandering with reckless abandon and attempting to forego special elections. It’s Republicans who continually refuse to adequately acknowledge and address Russia’s attack on our elections. And of course, the Republicans who scream from the rooftops about Sharia law and Islamic extremists represent the same party that continues to use the Christian religion to deny rights for LGBTQ+ Americans and still refuses to denounce white neo-nazis

Replicating this insincere and duplicitous behavior on a local level, Duke College Republicans want to put on an event about the “unique responsibility of American Muslims” in the context of Islamic extremism. This very same group previously advertised a UNC event with Sebastian Gorka, who denied the validity of right wing extremist terrorism in America—a phenomenon that poses a far greater threat to America than Islamic extremists. 

The Duke College Republicans think they have the moral authority to discuss the American Muslim identity, presenting American Muslims as either patriots or insurgents. They willingly sought out this speaker, who calls the Muslim Students Association—and any number of political opponents—“Islamists,” while trumpeting himself as a moderate with a dedication to ideological diversity. Both the Duke College Republicans and their invited speaker overgeneralize and stereotype their subjects under the guise of academic discourse. It is clear that the hypocrisy and intellectual myopia of the speaker and the sponsors go hand-in-hand. 

But perhaps the speakers they really need to invite, and the events they really need to hold, would shine a critical light directed on themselves.

After all, shouldn’t the Duke College Republicans, and Republicans in general, take a good hard look at what it is about their identities that has led to such a degenerate and anti-democratic party? Would it not be more productive for them to wonder how they allowed for an unqualified sexual assailant with an unabashed bent toward racism to become the leader of their party? 

Perhaps they could ask what unique responsibilities American Republicans hold in stemming right-wing violence and halting the rise of neo-nazis who claim Trump as their inspiration. Though they would doubtlessly bungle such an event as well, at the very least, they would not be impugning any group other than themselves. And shouldn’t the party that champions the principle of keeping what one has “earned” be overjoyed to maintain the spotlight they’ve garnered, instead of redistributing it to others who don’t deserve it?

Ultimately, we deserve to know. Do Republicans really love this country? Or are they tearing it up from within? I’m not saying that they are. But maybe we should talk about it.

Shivam Dave is a Trinity senior. His column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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