The president of the Arab American Institute said "anti-Middle East rhetoric" has gripped the right, and he accused the Republican party of "exploiting fears of Muslims and exacerbating tensions" in an effort to score political points. 

In an op-ed published in an Abu Dhabi newspaper, AAI President James Zogby took Republicans to task for what he called harsh and damaging rhetoric coming from many of the party's leaders. 

Comments a few weeks back by the 2012 presidential aspirants Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, in opposition to the building of a mosque in New York City, are a case in point. Mrs Palin called the mosque a “stab to the heart”, while Mr Gingrich claimed that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”

Other top Republican contenders have been no better. Mike Huckabee, a leader of the religious right, has made disparaging comments about Muslims and is so bizarrely pro-Israel that he has stated “there’s really no such thing as a Palestinian,” while Mitt Romney, once the moderate governor of Massachusetts and now the darling of conservatives, has on more than one occasion suggested that the government wiretap mosques. 

Zogby also criticized the recently formed "Emergency Committee for Israel," a group founded by Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer, which he labeled "hardline." The group is running TV ads targeting several Democrats over their record on Israel. 

He also singled out a handful of Republican House members and candidates who Zogby said are exploiting tensions at the expense of future relations between the U.S. and the Arab world. 

This Republican drift and the harshness of its anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric is worrisome. America’s engagement across the Middle East and South Asia is too important and the dangers too great for such virulence and misunderstanding to have taken hold in one of our political parties, especially when the GOP’s leaders appear so willing to vent their venom and use it for political advantage. 

Even George W Bush, for all his flaws, knew better, as did his two secretaries of state, his father and many other Republican leaders of the not-too-distant past. It’s high time for these traditional conservatives to come forward and challenge the current GOP crop who are running their party, and I fear, their country, into a deep hole.