A Letter from a Dear Friend:
It's a challenge to single out any one toxic issue from the current Republican presidential mudfight, but it's worth noting that ugly and dangerous anti-Muslim prejudice is a major concern in both Donald Trump's and Ted Cruz's campaigns.
Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the country has gotten most of the headlines. But there are many more stories that should have had more attention than they've received, showing among other things that Ted Cruz is NOT the lesser evil in this regard. Cruz's naming some of the most fanatical members of the Islamophobe network to his team of advisors is an example. It drew some critical comments when he announced the list but as far as I could tell was pretty much a one-day story, and the reporting I saw did not come close to explaining how shocking his choices really were.
Exhibit A is retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who has said things such as "Islam is evil. Islam is an evil concept," "Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections," and "those following the dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with shari'a law.” He's also declared that Christians should "go on the offensive" to prevent Muslims in America from building any more mosques.
(Not directly on this topic but I can't resist noting that Boykin also preached a couple of years ago that when Jesus returns, he will be carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. Not a joke. You can listen to it at http://aattp.org/ex-army-general-claims-jesus-will-be-returning-to-earth-sporting-an-ar-15-audio/ -- and ask yourself, are you reassured that a possible U.S. president is listening to this guy's advice on foreign policy? Or on anything?)
Cruz also named Frank Gaffney and a couple of his colleagues from his Center for Security Policy, one of the major-league anti-Muslim organizations, which specializes in dire warnings about the imminent danger that Muslims will impose shari'a law on the United States. Gaffney has said that Muslims who observe shari'a should be prosecuted for sedition. He advocates banning "not just refugees, but anyone coming in under any immigration program from Syria and Iraq"; all immigration from a list of other countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan; and a moratorium on ALL refugee resettlement.
As I said, there was a bit of tongue-clucking from the pundit tribe when Cruz announced those appointments, but it was pretty transitory. That tells something about the different yardstick the media and our society in general apply to anti-Muslim views as opposed to bias against other minorities. I am pretty sure that if Cruz had named someone with a comparable record of bigotry toward Jews or African Americans, the outrage and outcry would have been far more intense and lasted a lot longer.
As to Trump, it's striking that the one story with staying power has been his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, while other more outrageous statements are mentioned much more sporadically. At the top of my list is his saying he would "take out" terrorists' families -- and that not doing so is "fighting a very politically correct war." Personally I think that is the single worst thing he or anyone has said in this campaign. (Worth noting that he backed it up with one of his most blatant lies, about the 9/11 hijackers sending their families out of the country -- a story he has repeated even after it was conclusively shown to be false.) The second worst statement is Trump's enthusiastic endorsement of torture -- "Believe me, it works... If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”
I'm not sure why embracing those flagrantly illegal and immoral policies has gotten so much less coverage than banning Muslim entry to the country. Maybe it's because the latter ties more directly to the immigration issue, which has raised broader public concern. But it's hard to avoid a sense that bigotry against Muslims is fairly widely accepted as a legitimate viewpoint, compared to prejudice against other minorities.
This is not only troubling about our values. It is also dangerous on completely practical grounds. Just about all real terrorism experts will tell you that anti-Islamic attitudes and actions will not lead to more effective counter-terror efforts, but exactly the opposite. Treating Muslim communities as a potential enemy population reinforces the extremist narrative. It says exactly what they want Muslims here and around the world to believe -- that America is at war with Islam and Muslims have to strike back. We are safer when Muslims in this country feel accepted and respected, trust American law enforcement and identify with American institutions. We are less safe when we alienate Muslims by public hostility and suspicion and repressive policies. Those make the extremist argument more credible and will make people more reluctant to cooperate with anti-terror authorities. Trump and Cruz may win some votes by playing to people's fears, but the attitudes and policies they support help the jihadists, not public safety.
There are very few if any Trump or Cruz supporters in my address book, so this mailing will largely be preaching to the choir. But I think it's an important message, and if any of you can find useful places to deliver it, I hope you'll do so.
N.B. The opinions here expressed belong to the writer, and may or may not be the opinion of the blogger.