THE LEVEL OF ignorance about American Muslims that has been shouted across rallies, debates, and interviews in the presidential primary is nothing short of horrifying. But the ignorance that is most frightening is not from the average citizen. It is coming from those running for the highest office of the U.S.—and arguably, the world.
Moreover, the worst part of this ignorance is not even because those running to be the leader of the free world have no clue what actual Islamic values are. The absolute worst part is that these politicians have no idea what American values are.
Unless you have had the good fortune to live under a rock and missed Donald Trump’s attention-seeking antics, you will know that he has–in a very short span of time–called for a registry of American Muslims,[i] said it would be a good idea for Muslims to wear ID badges,[ii] called for a shutdown of all mosques,[iii] and most recently (as of this piece) he has said that Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.[iv]
Some are writing him off as a buffoon, saying that he has taken the theater part of political theater too literally. But Donald Trump is not the only politician in the Republican primary spouting out wildly anti-Muslim rhetoric. Ben Carson in an NBC interview, said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” [v] And then likened a largely Muslim Syrian refugee population to a rabid dog.[vi]
Politicians representing the “Grand Old Party” have a long and sordid history of anti-Muslim remarks. Another Republican presidential hopeful, Lindsey Graham, has said that “Everything that starts with ‘Al’ [“the” in Arabic] in the Middle East is bad news.”[vii] According to The Atlantic, “Mike Huckabee, […] said Christians shouldn’t rent out space in their churches to Muslims because ‘Muslim group[s]’ say ‘that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated’” a fundamentally ignorant claim.[viii] Rick Santorum performed a version of double-speak when he claimed that “Not all Muslims are jihadists [but] All jihadists are Muslim,”[ix] knowing that in the mind of the average citizen that jihad will be conflated terrorism. This is even though we know that, in fact, many non-Muslims have committed acts of terrorism. These are just a few examples of many.
Some might argue that anyone who runs for the office of president should at least have a cursory understanding about each segment of the population he or she would be leading. Some might even argue that to be an effective leader, you should know at least a little about the minorities of your own country and what they stand for. But the ignorance in the Republican Party political camp is much worse than not knowing their constituents and not knowing anything about a major world religion.
In this primary, we are seeing frontrunners of a major political party who do not even know the basics of the Constitution they would have to uphold, if elected. This is a serious issue. Rarely would you see a hiring process in which the candidate who knows the least about the job scoring the most points with the potential employer. But here we are in this very predicament in the U.S.
Anyone who has taken an American high school civics class will know that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof […].”[x] And still Trump thinks a registry of Muslim or ID badges and so on would be acceptable.
Even the most novice politician should at least have heard of Article VI of the U. S. Constitution which states: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”[xi] But it would seem that Carson, who thinks a Muslim should not be president, has never heard of it.
Even the seal of the United States proudly states “E pluribus unum”– Out of many, one. This used to mean that out of many different peoples, faiths, and cultures — working together toward liberty, equality, and freedom — comes one great nation. This principle falls on deaf ears in the GOP.
All in the Name of Political Currency
So how can these candidates get away with making wildly bigoted and un-American claims? The candidates might say that their supporters insist it is good for America, sighting the Paris attacks or the terrorist attack at San Bernardino. But is it really good for Americans to lump in all American Muslims–doctors, teachers, civil servants, military personnel, lawyers, engineers, volunteers, and civil rights activists–together with extremists, with terrorists?
Would it be equally good for America to ban all white males who seem to be loners from places of education because of school shooting? Or should we ban all Christians with fundamental ideals from getting near women’s health care facilities because of the attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics? Should we also ban all white males from going to any movie theater because of the history of mass shootings at these establishments? Would any of that be good for America?
Of course not. Profiling in this way is never good for any group, nor is it good for our country. It is a heavy-handed approach that strips Americans of their right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Our darkest days as a nation have come out of reversing this beacon of liberty. When a segment of the population –as was the case with Japanese Americans, and to a degree still is the case with African Americans– are considered guilty until proven innocent, we all suffered, and still suffer, from this bleak legacy.
Profiling and bigotry is not good for America. It is not good for Americans. But it is good for these individual’s campaigns to be divisive, using fear and ignorance to gain popularity.
So when you boil it all down, Trump and his ilk are doing something pretty reprehensible to the American political landscape. They are ditching American freedoms and deepening divides between the American citizenry, all for personal gain. It is exploitative, and truly, unabashedly un-American.
This political exploitation of a minority and fanning the flames of fear against them and promoting an ignorance of those who are different is nothing new. But it is dangerous because these politicians—who seem to many voters to be normal, highly-educated, and successful Americans—are normalizing hatred toward American Muslims, and they present this hatred as an American value. Politicians’ words carry weight. And whether or not they are aware of it, their words are fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment, coaxing some Americans into thinking it is OK to fire bomb a masjid,[xii] or to attack Muslims on the street.[xiii]
Jonathan Russell, a CNN correspondent, writes:
If Trump were to get elected, due to the fact that profiling and discrimination on the grounds of religion are completely unconstitutional and un-American, he would be unable to deliver this particular election promise. This will leave many of his anti-Muslim supporters unfulfilled, disenfranchised and motivated to act unilaterally in opposition to Muslims and Islam. He therefore won’t just increase anti-Muslim sentiment, his actions will also prompt more anti-Muslim violence.”[xiv]
This is not the time for anyone with a conscience to remain silent. This is not the time for anyone–anyone who wants to bring Americans of all faiths, ethnicities, and cultures together for a brighter future—to turn a blind eye. Because even if this bigotry is not targeted at you, when politicians start chipping away at American ideals and freedoms, those American freedoms and protections might not be there for you when your religious, ethnic, or cultural group is the focus of this kind of political exploitation.