Why does Herman Cain think about Muslims the way racists think about blacks?
If you measure dangerousness by sympathy for al-Qaida or the belief that suicide bombing can be justified, it's true that Muslims are, on average, more dangerous. It's a silly way to think, since this is just an average, and the percentages are very low. Islamic faith, per se, tells you nothing about the individual. But Cain doesn't want to take chances. "This nation is under attack constantly by people who want to kill all of us," he told CNN's John King shortly after the Beck show. Therefore, Cain concluded, "I am going to take extra precautions if a Muslim person who is competent wants to work in my administration."
The same goes for Sharia. "Many of the Muslims, they are not totally dedicated to this country," Cain told Neil Cavuto. "Many of them are trying to force Sharia law on the people of this country. And, so, yes, I did say it [that I wouldn't appoint a Muslim], and that is because I don't have time to be watching someone on my administration if they are not totally committed to the Declaration and the Constitution." On Laura Ingraham's radio show, Cain added: "I don't want any inkling of anybody in my administration who would put Sharia law over American law. … I don't want anybody in my administration that I'm going to have to be looking over my shoulder to figure out if they are going to try to do something against the principles that I believe in."
Hence the loyalty test or, better yet, simple exclusion of Muslims. It spares Cain the trouble of evaluating them individually and eliminates the risk that a bad one might slip through. It saves him time and worry, just as segregation relieved the University of Georgia of having to evaluate Cain's college application.
When Cain was growing up, whites used their majority status not just to hold power but to claim authority. Now Cain is in the Christian majority, and he's leveraging that power to keep Muslims in their place. " We are a Judeo-Christian nation," he told Christianity Today. "One percent of the practicing religious believers in this country are Muslim. And so I push back and reject them trying to convert the rest of us. … I do not want us, as a nation, to lose our Judeo-Christian identity." On Ingraham's show, Cain said of Muslim U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison: "If you take an oath on the Quran, that means that you support Sharia law. I support American law.Our laws were derived from principles that are biblically based." If Cain gets his way, public servants will swear on a holy book, but it'll be Christian: " Anybody that takes the oath of office in a Herman Cain administration will put their hand on the Bible, not the Koran."
Now that Cain has climbed the corporate ladder and is running for president, he faces a new kind of racism: the assumption that a black man must be liberal. Cain ridicules this stereotype. " Some black people can think for themselves," he says.
But Muslims? They all think alike. "I have not found a Muslim that has said that they will denounce Sharia law [and] support the Constitution," Cain told Ingraham. In another interview, he explained: "The reason I made the statement that I would not put a Muslim in my cabinet, or in my administration, is because I want people that are dedicated to the Constitution. … I don't know one Muslim who will denounce Sharia Law and then say that they can support the Constitution."
Herman, you really need to get out more.
Cain's distrust doesn't stop at Muslims. He's skeptical of foreign heritage in general. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Cain called President Obama " an international" and argued that "he's out of the mainstream and always has been. Look, he was raised in Kenya, his mother was white from Kansas, and her family had an influence on him, it's true, but his dad was Kenyan." Speaking at a Georgia church, Cain recalled the time he went in for surgery with a doctor named Abdallah. Cain asked the doctor's assistant: " That sounds a little foreign. What is that?" She replied: "He's from Lebanon. … But don't worry, he's a Christian." Upon hearing this, Cain told the congregants: "I said Amen. I felt a whole lot better."
But feeling better is exactly the problem. It isn't Cain's discomfort that should worry us. It's his comfort. He thinks he has risen above prejudice. He thinks his experience of discrimination protects him from doing to others what was done to him. He doesn't recognize in himself the same habits of group judgment, blindness to individual differences, and majoritarian claims to national identity.
This doesn't make Cain a bad person. It just means that he, like the rest of us, still has a lot to learn.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Herman Cain by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.