Republicans nationwide could learn a lesson from Md.'s governor

In today’s world, where my tan skin, black beard and Muslim faith are abused to earn political capital or votes, it’s really become more difficult for me to connect with any politician who happens to wear the GOP tag. That’s something the Republican Party has to do some real soul searching about, considering the president and current leader of the Republican party says, “Islam hates us.” I’m still wondering who exactly the “us” is in this statement.

I have often felt compelled to ask a question in response: “Why does it always seem like the Republican party hates Muslim-Americans?” But that is a debate that seems to spiral down into unhealthy arguments.

What’s frightening about all this is how quickly we (including me) get all caught up in it. We begin assigning labels. We start seeing certain people and population segments as the “other” — in this case an entire party or a faith group. It’s the type of broad-brushing and stereotyping that I as a Muslim American U.S. Marine Corps veteran (yes, you read it right: We Marines come in tan and Muslim too) fight against daily, particularly in my capacity as the founder of MuslimMarine.org.

Reminding fellow Americans to see all people regardless of faith, color, tradition and yes, even political affiliation, as part of the larger human family we all belong to, not some number or statistic, is a personal goal. And I truly celebrate my America (which, by the way, is very Islamic, too), the one that guarantees every person the right to worship as he or she chooses — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox and even atheists.

The Republican party for too long had largely sat silent in front of all the hate and anti-Muslim bigotry we have seen. In my eyes, they had seemed to become the party that had allowed the nation to drift into an “us” verses “them” America. But an event at governor’s mansion in Maryland recently changed everything for me.

I was invited over by Gov. Larry Hogan’s office to participate in an Iftar (breaking-of-the-fast) dinner marking the first day of Ramadan (in the Muslim Holy Month of fasting) at Government House in Annapolis. It was really an eye opening experience to say the least. And I think something that I personally needed.

I entered the mansion and there he was, Governor Hogan alongside his wife, Yumi. For those who may not know, Yumi Hogan is the first Asian-American woman to serve as first lady of Maryland — she was born in South Korea. Seeing the interracial marriage was cool in itself. But let me get to the larger point.

Governor Hogan stood patiently, shaking hands, taking pictures and greeting as many Muslims American Marylanders as he could. He was courteous, he was kind and, most importantly, he was sincere and genuine. You could feel it! He even thanked me for my service when I finally got my turn and a minute to chat. From what I observed, I don’t think a singe person was left out. Everyone got their moment with the people’s governor.

When it came to time for his welcoming remarks, Governor Hogan spoke about the importance of good intentions and the value of diversity and inclusion. Maryland has among the most Muslims per capita of any state, he said, adding that Muslim American Marylanders were an asset and contributed to the well being of the state.

His tone, his body language, his attitude said it all. I really felt he was speaking from the heart.

How quickly I had broad-brushed. How fast I had fallen in the trap of stereotyping. I had committed the very same sin I had been fighting against. Now I started feeling bad inside. And the irony, I myself had served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the administration of Republican President George W. Bush, who, by the way, immediately following 9/11 reminded Americans that, “Islam is peace.” And my first real job after my honorable service in the U.S. Marine Corps — working for two Republican U.S. Securities and Exchange (SEC) chairmen, William Donaldson and then later Christopher Cox — both of whom treated me no less then family. Working for them was one of the best experiences of my professional career.

Republicans nationwide could learn a lesson or two from a Republican governor who the won the heart of a tan skinned, black bearded, Muslim guy in an overwhelmingly blue state. And no, it’s not about Republican versus Democrat. It’s about the person who truly encompasses American ideals and puts country over party first.

Mansoor Shams is founder of MuslimMarine.org. His email is mansoor@muslimmarine.org; Twitter: @mansoortshams.

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