Nezar Hamze is a conservative Muslim — not religiously conservative, but financially and socially conservative — who wanted to join the Broward Republican Executive Committee in Broward County, Florida. Last Tuesday, the committee voted to deny his membership application, as a crowd of Republican onlookers cheered and called him a “terrorist.”
When asked his political beliefs, Hamze told Salon magazine’s Justin Elliott, “I’m a strict social conservative, a fiscal conservative, a very strict constitutionalist. The protection of civil liberties for all Americans is supreme.” These beliefs fit with the Republican Party’s platform. But Hamze, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, disagrees with Republican orthodoxy on one key point: he doesn’t think it makes sense to treat all American Muslims like enemies and potential terrorists.
Last year, Hamze challenged Rep. Allen West (R-FL) at a town hall, objecting to his Islamophobic remarks. Later, he sent a letter to Rep. West asking him not to associate with bigots like Pamela Geller, whose anti-Muslim ideology was endorsed by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Brieivik. That many Republicans believe Hamze’s criticism of Rep. West shows he is insufficiently Republican shows a major problem with the Republican Party. If the Republicans make hating Muslims a condiiton of joining their party, they will never attract Muslims or non-Muslims who nonetheless believe it’s wrong to attack an entire group of people based on their religion.
Where does that leave Muslims who actually hold conservative views but aren’t welcome in the Republican Party because they’re the wrong religion? “A lot of Muslims I know,” Hamze told Elliott, “their values really line up with the conservative values of the Republican party.” In fact, the main reason Hamze tried to join BREC was so he could start a “Muslim Republicans” club for Muslims with conservative political views.
Just before his membership application was denied in a secret vote, Hamze addressed the crowd of Republicans: “I’m aligned with Republican values. And I want to serve the party.” But the Republicans don’t want his service, apparently because they feel it’s more valuable to court the Islamophobic vote. Hamze and his Muslim Republican friends may want to “fight the myth of the Muslim vote being Democratic,” as he explained to Elliott, but it’s not a myth when the Republicans refuse to let the Muslim vote become Republican. In the end, it seems, Democrats will continue to benefit from the simple fact that they do have not made the demonization of an entire group of Americans based on their religion a central part of their party platform.