It’s tempting, when President Obama says, “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” to reply that the president is hitting at a straw man. Most Americans aren’t bigots. They understand that we are fighting a few radical extremists, not an entire religion.
But then enters Donald Trump to confirm the president’s warnings. Previously, Trump has claimed, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City celebrated the 9/11 attacks. He has called for a “database” to track Muslims and vowed to close down mosques.
Now he has upped the ante by calling for a “total and complete” shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States.
He didn’t specify if he meant only non-citizens and non-residents or if he truly meant all Muslims: If Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Muhammad Ali, Mohamed El-Arian, Zalmay Khalilzad, or Fareed Zakaria leave on a foreign trip, will they be prohibited from coming back? Will he ban Muslim combat veterans from coming home after fighting to defend U.S. security in Afghanistan and Iraq? What about the Muslims who are heads of state of crucial American allies such as Morocco, Jordan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, etc.: Are they to be prohibited from entering the United States too if they want to meet with the president? What about Nobel Prize winners Malala Yousafzai, Shirin Ebadi, Muhammad Yunus, and Orhan Pamuk? Are they barred, too?
Trump is setting up a scenario where the U.S. is pledged, via NATO, to defend Turkey, while at the same time prohibiting any Turk from visiting the U.S. Same goes for Muslim citizens of such close U.S. allies as Britain, France, and Germany: They’re verboten, too, according to The Donald.
Of course, it’s ludicrous to even parse his proposal for any real meaning. Such a blatantly unconstitutional provision, which denies the equal protection of the law based on religion, could never be implemented as long as there is an independent judiciary in the United States.
But of course Trump doesn’t care if his ideas make any sense. He is embracing fascism, in all probability, not because he really believes it, but because he is willing to do or say anything to advance the only cause in which he really believes — which is his own ambitions. Trump doesn’t care about the damage he is doing to civil society, to the Republican Party, and to America’s international standing with his stupid, reprehensible ideas.
The worst damage of all is to America’s standing in the war on terror. President Obama, echoing George W. Bush, was absolutely right on Sunday night when he said: “If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.” Trump’s hateful rhetoric makes that task a lot harder than it needs to be, and directly plays into the ISIS/al-Qaeda narrative that all unbelievers are at war with all Muslims.
Like other demagogues of the past, such as Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, and George Wallace, Trump is embracing “suspicion and hate” in order to divide society and feed his own quest for power. It is time — more than time — for all decent Americans to turn their backs on this dangerous rabble-rouser. It is true that America has a long history of xenophobia and racism, but we have worked hard to overcome that baleful legacy for decades. We are better than this. Don’t let Trump drag us down into the muck for his own ignoble purposes.