The Internet exploded Monday night as Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump announced he wants to bar entry to “all Muslims” trying to enter the United States until the country “figures out exactly what is going on here” in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. The most optimistic side of me expected to wake up to at least a half-hearted apology Tuesday morning, given the speed and intensity of the backlash, but instead Trump said in defense of his remarks, “I don’t care.”
I couldn’t help thinking about arriving a few weeks ago in the United States, where I was born and spent most of my life, to surprise my family for Thanksgiving. With my mixed family background, and a passport full of Middle Eastern stamps (I’ve been living and working in Beirut and Istanbul for the past year), would I have been allowed into the country — my country — under Trump’s proposed plan?
While security questions are expected for many travelers, what does the future hold for us who have traveled to suspicious countries or have identifying last names?
Under Trump’s plan, would border agents detain the Abdulrahmen and Abdulqaders of the world while those without “Muslim sounding” names, or those who perhaps carry their Muslim lineage on their maternal side, move through unimpeded?
Would the plan affect anyone with even a drop of Muslim blood? Or would it target only the explicitly devout — those unraveling prayer rugs in airport terminals or reading the Qu’ran while waiting at their gate?
Do Sikhs and non-Muslim Arabs — and any others who have qualified as Muslim in the eyes of the bigots — need to be concerned as well? Would anyone who’s simply the wrong shade of brown be turned away?
Does Donald Trump understand that millions of American are practicing Muslims?
Really, I’m curious to know. In a community of more than two billion people, with ethnic backgrounds ranging from Sudan to Iran, and Bosnia to Malaysia, not to mention national backgrounds from every country in the world, how exactly does someone identify a Muslim at an airport these days?
Dark humor and shock aside, it’s important to acknowledge that this is not the first time Donald Trump has suggested radical, not to mention logistically challenging, measures against Muslims in the wake of a possible terrorist attack. Following the Paris attacks in November, Trump considered a database to track all Muslims in the United States.
And generally speaking, it doesn’t seem the leading Republican presidential contender has a solid grasp of U.S. Muslims: When President Obama addressed the nation following the San Bernardino shooting last week, begging the country not to “turn against each other” and stressing the contributions of Muslims to the United States, Trump was incredulous that followers of Islam could be sports heroes.
Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2015
Muhammed Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar promptly retweeted him, one has to imagine with a shake of the head.
While perhaps the most outrageous of his ilk, Trump is not the only public figure who’s suggested increased scrutiny — and sanctioned blanket suspicion — against Muslim-Americans in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. After Paris, many politicians have come out staunchly against letting Syrian refugees seek asylum in the United States. Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio went so far as to call for the shutdown of any gathering place where Muslims could be “inspired.”
This rhetoric has real consequences. Just a few days after the attacks in Paris, a Muslim-American sixth grader in the Bronx was repeatedly called “ISIS” as her classmates hit her, and tried to rip off her hijab. On Thanksgiving Day, a Muslim cab driver in Pittsburgh was injured when he was shot by a passenger who had spent the ride asking if he was Pakistani, inquiring about the Islamic State and mocking the Prophet Muhammed. Multiple mosques have been vandalized since the attacks in Paris, and Muslim community leaders have received threats reminiscent of those heard in the aftermath of 9/11, making many anxious for what the aftermath of San Bernardino will bring. Although FBI data says hate crimes across the country are at a record low, over the past year hate crimes against Muslims and Muslim-Americans have spiked to the highest level since 2001.
While it is tempting to dismiss Donald Trump as just another “clown” in the Republican primary circus, his words — and his unwavering base — are indicative of a far more disturbing trend happening right now in the United States. As Trump fear-mongers among his supporters, the national focus continues to be on ISIS and the threat of forces from abroad entering the U.S., rather than the ease of acquiring weapons that facilitate attacks, or the real danger of alienating (and radicalizing) Muslim communities. Meanwhile, Muslims and Muslim-Americans continue to needlessly apologize — and pay the price — for a problem that is not their fault.
With all that in mind: Can we impose a ban on Donald Trump entering the country? That is, at least, until we figure out what the hell is going on here.