US Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has the gift of being able to offend many people, nearly half the world’s population who call themselves female, for instance. But for one group of people in particular his rhetoric has been particularly alarming.
Since November last year, Muslims, whether they are the relatives of American servicemen or Syrian refugees, have been Trump’s favoured nemeses. His first official attack came last December when he called for the “total and complete shutdown” of the country’s borders to Muslims.
Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said Trump’s proposed ban would apply to “everybody”, including Muslims seeking immigration visas as well as tourists seeking to enter the country.
Another Trump staffer confirmed that the ban would also apply to American Muslims who were currently overseas – presumably including members of the military and diplomatic service. “This does not apply to people living in the country,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News. But one of his most controversial proposals was the idea of giving Muslim Americans ID badges. He suggested he was not opposed to the idea of opening a database to register Muslims living in the US during an interview with Yahoo Politics last November.
Last December, Trump was pressed on the details of his Muslim ban during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. After pointing out that religion does not usually appear on passports, co-host Willie Geist asked about logistics:
Geist: —– Donald, a customs agent would then ask the person his or her religion?
Trump: —- It would be probably – they would say, “Are you Muslim?”
Geist: —– And if they said “Yes,” they wouldn’t be allowed in the country?
Trump: —- That’s correct.
Last August, Trump appeared to tone down this policy of an all about ban, despite the original statement remaining on his website until the morning of the election result. He said applicants will be tested to determine if they share Western liberal values like LGBT and religious tolerance. Under Trump’s plan, citizens from countries with alleged history of terror will be banned but he did not make it clear which nations.
The President-elect courted yet more controversy this year when he insulted the parents of fallen Muslim soldier Captain Humayan Khan who was killed during the Iraq war. He accused his father Khizr Khan of not allowing his wife to speak when they shared the stage at a Democratic convention. No matter how patriotic, Muslims it seems were fair game during Trump’s election campaign. He fought publicly with the Khan family but never publicly apologised.
The denigration of his own countrymen who happen to be Muslim has been unabated: it has included a call to introduce surveillance at mosques and the assumption that Muslim Americans are harbouring terrorists, painting them all as potential suspects.
Trump is a connoisseur of bigotry: his plans to deport 11 Million undocumented Hispanic Americans, his desire to build a wall with Mexico, calling most Mexican immigrants rapists and his opposition to taking in a single Syrian refugee because “We know nothing about their values and we know nothing about their love for our country.” When it comes to Muslims, his stance is a trumped up form of bigotry, merging deeply embedded American race issues with a Cold War style approach to foreign enemies.
His call for a ban on all Muslims entering the country positioned them as foreign infiltrators, but his attitude towards American Muslims portrays them as a homogenous group of people, capable of suddenly committing mass murder. Even the most patriotic of them are prone to backwards ideas and don’t let their wives speak in public. His definition of Muslim goes beyond foreign enemy to refer to a member of a naturalised but defective “race” of people within America, a view which reflects a dark legacy of
America’s recent history.
Between 1790 and 1952, US law barred naturalised citizenship to anyone who was not white. Immigrants from the Middle East posed a problem as they did not fit into these racial categories. Therefore, the black-white categorization had to be altered. For immigrants from the Middle East, it turned into a Muslim-Christian classification. “Religion has always served as a proxy for racial identity,” according to Khaled Beydoun, a Law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.
“Individuals who were Muslim, up until 1944 – a specific case – were rigidly deemed to be non-white and thus couldn’t become citizens.” But for Arab immigrants, Christianity was “a gateway toward whiteness and citizenship.”
Trump’s “racialisation” of Muslim identity has given Muslimness a quality that is immutable, much like Jewish Identity under Nazi rule in Germany. The Nuremberg Laws didn’t account for Jewish ways of thinking about heritage and tribal membership. Having three Jewish grandparents was enough for the state to define you as a Jew, even if you didn’t consider yourself Jewish. Whether he goes through with his idea of introducing ID badges for Muslims or not, Trump’s vision is not so different from one of a dark recent past.
Hilary Clinton accused Trump of living in an alternative reality, but his rise to power does represent a worrying xenophobic trend in America and across the world. We can only hope his Presidency is a wake-up call to address this trend head-on and work towards a more tolerant and inclusive future.