“I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” Carson said. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”
Carson said that the only exception he’d make would be if the Muslim running for office “publicly rejected all the tenants [sic] of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”
“Then I wouldn’t have any problem,” he said.
However, on several occasions Carson mentioned “Taqiya,” a practice in Shia Islam in which a Muslim can mislead nonbelievers about the nature of their faith to avoid persecution.
His phrasing there is strange: It’s not just Muslims who think religion is “very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official.” The whole point of the Kim Davis saga was that she couldn’t in good conscience subordinate her Christian beliefs to the new legal regime on marriage post-Obergefell. Still, you know what Carson means — shari’a is meant to be a comprehensive legal system, not just a collection of religious beliefs, so a candidate who follows it would need to somehow resolve its conflicts with American statutory law.
People are grousing that all of this amounts to a big gotcha dropped on him by Chuck Todd, a bit of dirty pool designed to highlight social-con suspicion of Muslims and put other Republican candidatess on the spot. After all, Jonah Goldberg complains, there are no Muslims actually running for president. Why even bring this up? I think there’s some value to the question as a way to probe one of the major but mostly unspoken themes of the campaign, namely, the white working class’s discomfort with multiculturalism and the pace of assimilation in America. That’s one of the reasons Trump broke big after demanding action against Mexican rapists and it’s one of the reasons he had to reverse himself after first sounding open to accepting Muslim refugees from Syria. Carson’s competing with him for some of the same votes, especially in Iowa, with this answer. What he’s getting at speaks to both a special fear of putting a Muslim in charge, given the neverending reminders in the news about jihadism, but also a more general fear of multiculturalism being used to mainstream illiberal (or, in some cases, hyperliberal) belief systems. The left shares that fear too, even though most of them would never admit it:
That’s funny, but Carson’s making the same point — he’d be happy to support a Muslim candidate so long as he had reason to believe that candidate had renounced Islam’s illiberal elements. Bobby Jindal makes a similar point here:
Full Jindal press release on Muslim candidate question pic.twitter.com/Qd4N33jzdQ
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) September 21, 2015
The left has its own version of this. They openly mock devoutly Christian Republican candidates as theocrats in the making, but question Obama’s faith and they’ll slap you with insistences that O himself is a man as devout in his Christian belief as any wingnut. If they really believed that, they’d fear an Obama theocracy too. But they don’t believe it. They’re comfortable with O because, they think, he doesn’t take his faith particularly seriously. Carson and Jindal are arguing the same way about Muslim candidates. Reassure that that candidate is about as Islamic as Obama is Christian and they’re okay with him.
Here’s Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, defending his remarks this morning on CNN. Exit question: Are Muslims the group Americans are least likely to choose a president from? Exit answer: Nope. See what I mean now about fear of hyperliberal beliefs too?
Update: Here’s a bonus exit question for you. If Democrats are so open to voting for a Muslim candidate, why did Team Hillary think it was worth quietly circulating “Obama is a Muslim” rumors during the 2008 Democratic primaries? Weird that they’d think that might hurt him, no?