When Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) thinks you’ve gone too far with your Muslim bashing, you truly have taken a detour into the world of batshit crazy. But that’s exactly where Donald Trump has found himself after his comments Wednesday to Fox Business Channel’s Stuart Varney about closing down American mosques.
Varney asked Trump if he agreed with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent proposal to close mosques if a worshiper is linked to ISIS. Trump responded unequivocally, “Absolutely, I think it’s great.” Varney, apparently taken aback by Trump’s flippant response to depriving Americans of their constitutional rights, followed up incredulously, “Can you close a mosque?” Adding, “We do have religious freedom.”
Trump then gave us this gem: “It depends. If the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear.” “Loaded for bear”?! Is that a term I missed in law school about when it’s OK to violate Americans’ constitutional rights??
Trump’s call to close American mosques was even too much for Peter “Muslim hunter” King. While on Fox News (Ground Zero for anti-Muslim bullshit), King rebuffed Trump’s remarks with a comment that truly sums up The Donald’s entire campaign: “Donald Trump is talking before he knows what he’s talking about.” King added, “I have been critical of people in the Muslim community, but the fact is you can’t be shutting down mosques…we do have freedom of religion.”
I wish King would’ve stopped there, but being King, that’s impossible. He then continued: “We should have surveillance of mosques…to find out if there’s ‘activity’ in that mosque.” So, King still advocates that American Muslims should have fewer rights than other Americans simply because of our faith. However, he draws the line at actually forcing mosques to be boarded up. (Or maybe King wants mosques to remain opens because it’s easier to spy on Muslims in a group setting than individually?)
So why would Trump outflank even Ben “Islam isn’t compatible with America” Carson? Could it be that Trump studied the details of Cameron’s 40-page proposal (PDF), thought it through, and came to the reasoned conclusion that it might just make sense for America. OK, stop laughing.
The reality is much more likely found in Trump’s comment last week about why Carson is gaining on him in the polls: “He’s been getting a lot of ink on the Muslims and other things.” And Trump is right. Since Carson’s comments about his fear of a Muslim president, together with other incendiary remarks, he saw a bump in the polls. In fact, an NBC poll released Tuesday put Trump and Carson only three points apart, which is within the poll’s margin of error.
So while Trump is light on policy, he’s heavy on politics. Undoubtedly Trump gets that anti-Muslim rhetoric plays great with the core of the GOP. After all, a poll last month found that only 49 percent of Republicans think Islam should be legal in the United States. And astoundingly, another recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans in North Carolina believe that Islam should be illegal in our country. These people are not just talking about closing mosques tied to terrorism, but criminally prosecuting those who practice Islam.
Sadly, we will likely see even more Muslim bashing from Trump and Carson in the months to come. Unless, of course, more tolerant voices in the GOP speak out and make it clear that there’s no place for demonizing minorities in the Republican Party. (Again, stop laughing.)
But let’s look at the actual issue of closing of mosques as Cameron is suggesting. The British government would be far from the first to force mosques to shut down. Tunisia’s government closed 80 mosques suspected of inciting violence after 38 tourists were killed by Muslim terrorists in July. And Egypt’s leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently closed thousands of mosques, in part because of fear of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence.
Of course, the difference between Tunisia, Egypt, and even the United Kingdom on the one hand and the United States on the other is that we have a thing called the Constitution. It’s an amazing document that I’m truly hoping Trump will one day read or at least scan quickly between his hateful remarks about Latinos and Muslims. Perhaps then he will finally understand the rights every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, are guaranteed.
Now, of course, if there’s credible evidence that members of a mosque are engaged in terrorism, our government should vigilantly prosecute all involved. But the notion that a mosque should be shuttered because a member joins ISIS or commits a terrorist act is wrong. It would be like closing a mega church because one or a few of its congregants were involved in attacking a Planned Parenthood office. We punish specific wrongdoers, we don’t engage in collective punishment, especially when it impacts a fundamental right like freedom of religion.
But what Trump is missing (among many other things) is that what’s happening with the U.K.’s Muslim community is starkly different from what we see in the United States. In Great Britain, estimates are that 750 or more Muslims have joined ISIS from its Muslim population that totals about 2.9 million. In contrast, we have nearly double the Muslim population, yet estimates are that maybe 250 Americans have joined ISIS.
The fact that Muslims feel more a part of American society no doubt plays a role in why far fewer have joined ISIS despite our much larger Muslim population. The connection between alienation from a society and the increased risk of radicalization was a point made many times at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that I attended earlier this year.
Astoundingly, Trump and Carson are helping ISIS recruit by making Muslim Americans not feel welcome in the United States. My hope is that the Republican voters won’t reward Trump or Carson for this conduct, but sadly I think they will.