Please stop ignoring the real bigotry of Ben Carson’s comments

With the full-court right wing press on to rehabilitate Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim shouldn’t be elected president, it’s worth noting that a lot of people (particularly in the media) seem to be so wrapped up in the “president” part of Carson’s comments that they’re missing what’s really offensive about what he said.

It’s very easy for Carson to walk back his comments about whether or not a Muslim should be president, because he can just say, as he already has (with an assist from Fox News), that “hey, I’m just saying I personally wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to run.” Perfectly reasonable, right? He’s even been able to walk that back a little, saying yesterday that he could support a Muslim candidate who would “embrace our Constitution and [be] willing to place that above their religious beliefs.” By that, he appears to be insisting that any Muslim candidate for president would have to effectively repudiate Islam, which probably isn’t something he’d ask a Christian candidate to do, but I digress.

The really awful part of what Carson said is back in the original exchange he had with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday (which went unchallenged, by the way, and thanks for that, Chuck!):

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States.

Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” the retired neurosurgeon said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

He also said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

Carson, who is near the top of several early presidential polls, said a president’s faith should matter depending on what that faith is. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he clarified.

The implication of that exchange isn’t just that Muslims are unfit to run for office, it’s that they’re really unfit to be Americans, period. Islam is “inconsistent with the values and principles of America,” and “incompatible with the Constitution,” according to Ben Carson, who apparently holds PhDs in political theory and religious studies in addition to the MD that he supposedly has (consider me a skeptic on that one). These are not statements about whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for office, they’re far deeper (and far more bigoted) than that. This is the kind of talk that, if it gets mainstreamed and enacted into policy, ends up with people being herded into camps, or worse.

"At least I'm not saying that Muslims aren't human. I mean, I'm not saying that yet, anyway."
“At least I’m not saying that Muslims aren’t human. I mean, I’m not saying that yet, anyway.”

I understand that Carson’s rejection of the very idea that a practicing Muslim can also be a good American is helping him rake in the campaign contributions, and small wonder when he’s running for the nomination of a party in which a big chunk of core voters think Islam should be against the law. But what the guy said on MTP is just grotesque, and yet most of the public conversation about it is missing the real point.

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