On the stage at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire Monday night, Tim Pawlenty offered a definition of religious freedom: “The protections between the separation of church and state were designed to protect people of faith from government, not government from people of faith.”
Yet apparently not all people of faith are to be protected from government, at least not according to one candidate on that stage: Herman Cain, pizza-maker turned presidential candidate. In January, the restaurateur-turned-presidential candidate justified the invasion of Iraq in simple, recipe-book English: “The people of Iraq, they wanted to be a democracy. Once it was clear that they wanted to be a democracy, President Bush pledged to help them out”.
But at the debate on Monday, Cain couldn’t countenance the thought of American Muslims sharing that aspiration. In Cain’s eyes, every Muslim must be judged according to the actions of the fanatics “that are trying to kill us.”
For that reason, Cain explained, he would not be “comfortable” including Muslims in his cabinet if elected president. Cain attempted to offer further justification by conjuring the bogey of Sharia law. He needn’t have to: a portion of the audience had by then drowned his words in applause. Only Mitt Romney — himself sometimes a target of religious prejudice — spoke up against Herman Cain, and then only in the most velvety manner.
“We recognize that the people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” said Romney. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance. That’s in fact why some of the early patriots came to this country and we treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion.”
As if to offset any offence these words might have caused, Romney added that he would only employ people he knew would honour their oath to defend the constitution. This was more than Newt Gingrich. He interrupted Romeny to remind the audience that breaking an oath was easy — and, to applause, called for more rigorous measures, invoking, as a useful precedent, the treatment of Nazis.
Gingrich justified his treat-Muslims-as-Nazis prescription by citing the case of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani American who attempted to blow up Times Square.
But what would Gingrich have done with Mohammed Salman Hamdani, another Pakistani American who died while attempting to save lives at the World Trade Centre on 9/11? Hamdani didn’t have to be at the World Trade Centre that morning, but he chose to go.
Would Cain have discharged Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim American who was killed while serving in Iraq? It is Hamdani and Khan, not Shahzad, who are more accurately representative of the ordinary Muslim immigrants to America — and the instincts which drove him to the World Trade Centre on 9/11 transcend the distinctions of race and faith: they are the instincts of the best of humanity.