Fear is a powerful motivator that is sadly all too often exploited by politicians. No one is more adept at doing so than Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Now Trump says he "would certainly implement" a data base for tracking Muslims in the United States.
Trump spoke Thursday in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign events. "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely," he said, "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases." Later Trump was asked how his plan would differ from the Nazi's requiring Jews to register. "You tell me," Trump responded to a reporter. When asked where he would register Muslims he said, "Different places," not ruling out mosques. "It's all about management," he said. "Our country has no management." He was asked if Muslims would have to be legally obligated to sign into a database, "They have to be--they have to be," he responded.
Trump has often resorted to demagoguery to drive his poll numbers up. But these remarks are the height of religious bigotry and un-American. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told NBC News, "What else can you compare this to except to prewar Nazi Germany." There are 2.6 million Muslims in America, and a bill severely restricting the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. has passed the House of Representatives. This action follows terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Egypt that the Islamic State has claimed credit for. ISISmay have embedded terrorists with refugees fleeing into Europe from Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian refugee crisis has become a big issue in the Republican primary. But Trump's plan for a Muslim database intensifies the debate. Friday morning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Trump's remarks "just wrong." The GOP presidential candidate told CNBC, "You talk about internment, you talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people, That's just wrong." He added, "It's not a question of toughness. It's to manipulate people's angst and their fears. That's not strength, that's weakness." But over the weekend Bush told CNN that Christian refugees could be admitted to the U.S. "There are a lot of Christians in Syria that have no place now," he explained. "They'll be either executed or imprisoned, either by Assad or by ISIS. And I think we should have -- we should focus our efforts as it relates to the Christians that are being slaughtered."
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who has been losing ground in the polls, compared the process of admitting Syria refugees into the U.S. with parents trying to protect their children from a rabid dog. "If there's a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog," Carson said during a campaign stop in Alabama. "And you're probably going to put your children out of the way. That doesn't mean that you hate all dogs." He said it would be "foolish" to admit Syrian refugees without a thorough vetting process. "We have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also a GOP presidential candidate, has been on both sides of the Syrian refugee issue. In February 2014, when compassion was what most Americans were feeling, Cruz supported allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. "We should continue to do so....We have to continue to be vigilant to make sure those coming are not affiliated with the terrorists, but we can do that." But now that Americans are fearful of terrorists Cruz has changed his stance. "It makes no sense whatsoever for us to be bringing in refugees who our intelligence cannot determine if they are terrorists here to kill us or not," he said. "Those who are fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East in majority Muslim countries."
The White House has said it wants to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States out of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees who have been displaced by that country's civil war. The vetting process currently in place is rigorous and can take 2 years to complete. The bill that passed the House of Representatives with the support of many Democrats would require that all the nation's top national security agencies sign off on each Syrian refugee.
The president has said he will veto the bill. But President Obama did not dignify himself when he lashed out at Republican members of Congress Wednesday from the Philippines. "We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic," he told reporters. "We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks." A better approach would have been for the president to recognize that Americans have legitimate concerns about terrorism, and to promise to make the refugee vetting process as rigorous as possible.
ISIS has been using anti-Muslim sentiment in the West as a recruiting tool. It has had limited success with young disaffected Americans, and authorities are working hard to keep track of possible terrorists in this country. But Trump's outrageous idea of creating a Muslim database, Carson's ridiculous comparison between Muslims and dogs, Bush's Christian litmus test for Syrian refugees, and Cruz's politicization of the issue are all empowering ISIS.
The terrorist attacks in France were horrific. But Americans should not react out of fear. The great Madame Curie, who spent most of her life in France, once said, "Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."