Does a Muslim Belong in the Cabinet?

Muslim Woman Holding Mitt Romney Picture Mansoor Ijaz reports that Mitt Romney has announced he would not appoint a Muslim to the cabinet were he elected president. His reasoning is a mite peculiar:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they’re too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America’s Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats.

Certainly, this is intellectually inconsistent. Then again, Ijaz’ complaint is not that Romney is being hypocritical on ethnic quotas but rather that he should immediately announce his enthusiasm for them:

Imagine how a qualified American Muslim FBI director, sensitized to the genuine concerns among Arab and Muslim communities about civil rights violations, would be able to ensure that FBI actions and policies target the real bad guys, not communities as a whole. Imagine how an American Muslim CIA director or defense secretary whose understanding of cultural differences in places that breed Islamist violence would ensure that intelligence was not biased by bigotry or lack of understanding and that defense strategies were constructed on data acquired from authentic sources.


[Romney] and other candidates for the presidency from both political parties, should actively begin searching for American Muslims and Arab Americans who can serve in primary decisionmaking cabinet level posts. To do otherwise is to risk promulgating policies that once again put the US straight in the sights of the terrorists who seek to bring America down.

This is simply nonsensical. Muslim Americans are uniquely qualified to judge the culture of foreign lands? So, your average Arab-American construction worker has more expertise than, say, an Irish-American with a PhD in Middle East politics? Really?

Jim Henley similarly rejects Ijaz’ reasoning but thinks Romney likely to get a pass from the conservative intelligentsia for his quota talk, given that only Evil Muslims are harmed. We shall see, I guess.

Frankly, aside from polls in Iowa and New Hampshire — and Hugh Hewitt — I haven’t seen much conservative support for Romney thus far. He’s hardly the favorite of the conservative intelligentsia. To the extent they spill any ink (or pixels) on Romney at all, I doubt we’ll see a lot of defense of his reasoning here.

Now, had he justified his position with the equally absurd notion that we simply can’t trust any Muslims with important positions, he’d have likely found some defenders. But for this particular idiocy? Likely not.

As to the title question, there may well be a Muslim or three who belongs in the cabinet. But let’s pick them based on subject matter competence, executive experience, and coherence with the president’s policy preferences rather than on a need to fill ethnic quotas or because it would send a certain signal.

Image source: Townhall

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Race and Politics, Religion, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Hilarious – the Mormon candidate is the religious bigot.

    What’s so hard about “Republicans believe in hiring the best-qualified people available, and I don’t care if the best person for the job is female, muslim, black, or all 3 – if they’re the best, I’ll hire ’em”?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    This entire conversation struck me as one of confused terminology. If Mr. Ijaz is asking whether Mitt Romney would consider an appropriately qualified Muslim as National Security Advisor i.e. a specific post, would Gov. Romney’s answer have been the same? I don’t know. That’s not what he seems to have asked. Mr. Ijaz’s question could be interpreted as asking for a new Cabinet-level position earmarked for a Muslim in which case Romney’s response makes pretty good sense. Why have a specifically Muslim Cabinet post and not a Jewish one, a Catholic one, an Episcopalian one, and so on?

    I am no Romney apologist; I can’t imagine circumstances under which I’d vote for him. But this sounds like a contrived controversy to me.

  3. Anderson says:

    Mr. Ijaz’s question could be interpreted as asking for a new Cabinet-level position earmarked for a Muslim

    You are going to have to do some explication on the quoted text to make that one work; I don’t see it at all.

  4. Michael says:

    What is wrong with Romney’s explanation? Am I the only one who took it to mean that given the very small population of muslims in America to non-muslims, that expecting to fill a cabinet position with someone of that faith isn’t justified?

    It would be like asking if there would be an half-Irish Catholic, half African American Baptist in his cabinet. The chances of finding a candidate of either description that is also the “best” person for the job is improbably low, so he couldn’t justify saying he would.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Here’s the text:

    Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters

    Not as National Security Advisor or Homeland Security Advisor (posts which already exist) but, apparently, additional Cabinet-level advisors.

  6. Anderson says:

    Hm. I don’t read it that way, given that existing posts like NSA, State, Defense, etc., are already “advisers on national security matters.” But you’ve convinced me the wording can be taken the way you read it.

    Romney’s answer, however, seems to imply that Muslims would be welcome only “at lower levels.” IOW, *he* seems to’ve taken it the way I initially did.

    Hopefully, his campaign will announce that they’re not in fact ruling out Muslim cabinet officers.

  7. Scott_T says:

    Anderson, I’d like to know why being a Muslim (their faith) would require some position in the Cabinet.

    Since being a Muslim is a faith, it can be any ethnicicity (ie black, white, persian, arab, chinese, etc).

    So if anyone (Romney or Hillary) appoints a white-Muslim person to their cabinet does it count? Or does it have to be a tie-dyed arab Muslim (the stereotypical version everyone expects)?

    Appointing a muslim-chinese (for example) to the post, what kind of name-calling would commence from that choice? (ie like Rice is an oreo-cookie, black on the outside, white on the inside).

  8. legion says:

    The magic part of Romney’s quote is this:

    “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

    It’s not 100% clear from just that snip, but it appears that he is not simply refusing to guarantee a slot for a Muslim on his (prospective) cabinet – a perfectly reasonable statement – but that he is actively refusing to consider a Muslim for any cabinet position, regardless of their qualifications, purely because of their faith.

    While I also disagree with Ijaz’ position that improving US-Islamic relations & understanding requires a Muslim on the Cabinet, it is a rather morally indefensible piece of bigotry on Romney’s part.

    Of course, that’s exactly what plays well with the GOP base these days, so I’m sure it will only go down in the ‘plus’ column for the primaries.

  9. tom p says:

    the point of the question (and the point of Mitt’s answer) is that you can not fight an “ideal” with bullets and bombs… you have to fight it with a better “ideal”… ie… how about a muslim who tells the muslim world, “the American way works for you too?”

    The Bush Admin launched a “crusade” (their word)… Why would a Muslim sign onto that?

    The fact that Mitt rules out a “National Security” Cabinet position for a Muslim tells us all that he is totally tone deaf to the middle east (keep in mind, his statement said it would not get him any “American” votes, not enuf Muslims in America) NEVER MIND that the entire muslim world thinks all we want is their oil… and a qualified Muslim could assuage their doubts…

    This election is about what is best for America… not Mitt. But he just wants to be President, not neccessarily a good president.


  10. Anderson says:

    Scott T, see Legion.

  11. Kent says:

    A nit, perhaps … but it’s Mr. Ijaz quoting Romney. Is he quoting him accurately? In context? The quote certainly serves Ijaz’ agenda.

  12. Anderson says:

    If anyone’s still reading, there are more sources than Mr. Ijaz for Gov. Romney’s no-Muslims-in-MY-cabinet stance.

  13. mannning says:

    Muslims in sensitive, high positions in the government? While we are fighting Islamic/Muslim terrorism worldwide? Insane!

  14. John Burgess says:

    Manning: a lot of Muslims (like Arabs or Chechyns) are Caucasians! No Caucasians in the Cabinet: they’re a security risk!!

  15. mannning says:

    JB, ole man, any Muslim signs up to the religious beliefs of Islam, which is diametrically opposed to Judeo-Christian existence. Letting the camel’s nose under the tent in a fit of liberal do-goodness and giving them access to sensitive information is tantamount to sending our secrets to the Islamofascists, which helps us along toward national suicide.

  16. mannning says:

    Addendum: The issue is not race. It is Islam.

  17. Grewgills says:

    Your argument sounds an awful lot like the arguments against electing a Catholic did 40 some odd years ago. He will take his marching orders from the Vatican. They will take their marching orders from the “Islamofascists.”
    Do you really think that all Muslims are dedicated to the end of all Jews and Christians? and that no Muslim can be a loyal American?

    The issue is not race. It is Islam.

    This means the issue is religious bigotry rather than racism, not a big step up. I hope I am reading you wrong.

  18. mannning says:

    If you have read into Islam, especially jihadism, and the modern interpretations of the ancient texts, you find that current Islamic leaders reinforce the words of 1,200 years ago, which puts Judeo-Christianity in jeopardy wherever the two meet.

    Your example of Catholicism is false, simply because Catholicism does not contain jihadism or anything like it, nor does it have something like Sharia Law.

    I would think that any normal person would be aware of the stark evils around the world perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Muhammad, especially to Jews and Christians. Perhaps you do not read your newspapers or watch TV. To excuse their horrors on some count or another is mind-boggling, witness the current example in the Sudan.

    There is no test that would prove the loyalty of a Muslim to the US over Islam. In fact, the instructions given in the Haddith for Muslims living in a foreign country say that Muslims are allowed to conform to the society they are in, until they are called by their Islamic leaders to perform whatever is asked in the name of Muhammad.

    There is a test of whether a Muslim follows his religion’s teachings–he performs jihad. If he renounces jihad, the question is can he be believed in the face of Koranic instructions to lie to, cheat, and steal from, or even kill, unbelievers. Then too, in that event, he is no longer a true Muslim, and can face the extreme penalty for recidivism–death, which has occurred in the US.

    Until he does perform some kind of jihad, he is suspect, and should not be accorded access to sensitive information or allowed to make US government decisions. After he has performed jihadist acts on us, he is a criminal, and should be dealt with harshly.

    If this be bigotry, so be it. Blame the media, The Koran, The Haddith, countless Fatwas, and Sharia Law.

  19. mannning says:

    Addendum: Certainly it is possible for a Muslim to renounce his religion to give his allegiance to the US, which is exactly what he would be doing. He cannot serve both: Islam is specific on this point. Once a Muslim, always a Muslim.

    The problem is, it isn’t testable by us, and it could involve a fatal outcome for the US, especially when Muslims become a more significant percentage of residents, say in 2050+.

    It is already well-established that Muslims will demand concessions to their religion by our government (or any government), witness Sweden’s problems, Canada’s problems, and the UK, where they demonstrate for Sharia Law to be imposed, and for separate schooling.

    The line must be drawn clearly and unambiguously–not in the US!