And a message to Muslims.
Donald Trump has made a name for himself in this election by trafficking in prejudice and paranoia. Now he says he wants to stop all Muslims from entering the United States. It’s a shameful idea. It’s also dangerous. At a time when America should be doing everything we can to fight radical jihadists, Mr. Trump is supplying them with new propaganda. He’s playing right into their hands.
Now some Republican candidates are saying that Donald Trump’s latest comments have gone too far. But the truth is, many GOP candidates have also said extreme things about Muslims. Their language may be more veiled than Mr. Trump’s, but their ideas aren’t so different.
Ben Carson says that a Muslim shouldn’t be president. Marco Rubio compares Muslims to members of the Nazi Party and refuses to rule out monitoring and closing of mosques. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have suggested that we implement a religious test for Syrian refugees—one that only Christians would pass. Chris Christie says not even 3-year-old Syrian orphans should be let in. And they insist on using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”—in fact, they criticize anyone who says anything else—even though it drives the exact narrative the jihadists want to advance: that we’re at war with an entire religion.
When you take a step back and see what the Republican field as a whole says about Muslims—not just one or two candidates for President, but nearly all of them—it’s hard to take seriously their attempts to distance themselves from Mr. Trump. He’s just articulating the logical conclusion of what the rest of them have been saying. As Mr. Trump said in an interview this morning, “They condemn practically everything I say, and then they always come to my side.”
That should concern all of us. This kind of rhetoric sets us back in the fight against radical jihadists—a fight we absolutely have to win, against a brutal, nihilistic enemy who twists Islam to justify mass murder. These jihadists cannot be contained; they have to be defeated. And the vast majority of Muslims here and abroad are on our side in this fight. Many are helping prevent radicalization, including here at home. So why would anyone suggest that they’re the enemy? How does that help us? Radical jihadists are telling people that the United States hates Muslims—and there’s Donald Trump on TV screaming about how he’s going to keep all Muslims out. He’s strengthening the terrorists’ argument.
He’s also taking aim at our values. Our country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution. The notion that here, people are free to practice their faith, whatever it is, is one of America’s most cherished principles. Maybe Mr. Trump should re-read President Washington’s 1790 letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, reassuring them that, in the brand-new nation of the United States, their religious liberty would always be protected. He wrote, “The Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” In other words, you can be you, and still be with us.
That’s something I’ll bet a lot of Muslim Americans need to hear right now. Imagine hearing political leaders threaten to register and track you, implying that your religion is violent, that you’re violent, that you’re the enemy. Nearly 3 million Americans are Muslims. They’re our family, our friends, our neighbors, and co-workers. They serve in the military, save lives as doctors and nurses, and serve our communities as police officers, firefighters, teachers, and civic leaders. They’re patriots—proud Americans, just like the rest of us. They deserve better than this.
So today, I want to send a different message.
To Muslim Americans: What you’re hearing from Trump and other Republicans is absolutely, unequivocally wrong. It’s inconsistent with our values as a nation—a nation which you are helping to build. This is your country, too. I’m proud to be your fellow American. And many, many other Americans feel the same way.
Now is the time for all of us—especially Republican leaders—to stand up to hateful, dangerous words and deeds.
Just a few days ago, two young women wearing headscarves were trying to have breakfast at a café near the University of Texas at Austin when another diner started shouting racist things at them. The girls left in tears—in part because of the ugly words, but also because no one else in that crowded café came to their defense.
As they left, one of the girls asked the room, “Who cares about us?” Somebody called out, “Nobody.” “We left,” they said, “because it was true.”
But it’s not true. And we have to make sure Muslim Americans know that. It’s how we stay true to our values as Americans. And it’s how we show the world who we really are—a strong, proud, united country that still knows, after all these years, that all men and women are created equal.