DONALD Trump prides himself on not backing down from any fight or controversial position. Hours after the Orlando nightclub mass shooting on June 12, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee doubled down on his plan to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the US.
He also renewed his call for US law enforcement agencies to use greater racial profiling, especially of Muslim Americans.
“I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country,” Trump said in a June 19 interview on the CBS news programme Face the Nation. He later added, “I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to start using common sense… It’s not the worst thing to do.”
In December, Trump shocked the world when he called for the ban on all Muslim travellers entering the US — until American leaders “can figure out what the hell is going on”.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has advocated increased surveillance of Muslim-American communities and mosques. He also said he would consider registering Muslim Americans in a database, or requiring Muslims to carry special identification cards.
Trump is persisting with his attack on Muslims because it has proven be his strongest issue, according to exit polls in many Republican primaries. In the pivotal March 15 contests, exit polls of voters in the five states that held elections revealed a remarkable fact: two thirds of Republican voters support Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants and tourists. In some states that held early primary elections — South Carolina and Missouri — nearly 75% of Republican voters support the ban.
Since he became the Republican nominee last month, there’s been much discussion of how Trump would adjust his views to appeal to a broader American public in the general election.
But even if other Republican leaders denounce his views, don’t expect Trump to curtail his attacks on Islam or his overt Islamophobia — he has little incentive to do so, as long as it wins him votes.
The polling shows that while Trump is fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, he did not create this phenomenon. He’s a demagogue who is taking advantage of deep-seated fears of Muslims among Americans, especially Republican voters. Trump is winning votes because he is willing to go further than any other candidate in tarnishing all Muslims.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper in March, Trump declared flatly: “I think Islam hates us.”
When Cooper asked him whether the religion is at war with the West, Trump added, “There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us.”
One day after his CNN interview, the moderator of a Republican presidential debate asked Trump to clarify his comments: “Did you mean all 1.6bn Muslims?”
“I mean a lot of them,” Trump responded, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
“And I will stick with exactly what I said to Anderson Cooper.”
Given several chances by his interviewers to distinguish between Islamic militants and the majority of the world’s Muslims, Trump refused to make that distinction and instead continued to tarnish an entire religion.
Similarly, Trump has not wavered from his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US, saying it would not apply to American citizens, and would be a “temporary measure” in response to the threat of attacks from jihadist groups like Islamic State.
He invoked one of America’s darkest periods: President Franklin D Roosevelt’s decision during the Second World War to classify more than 100,000 Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants as “enemy aliens”.
That decision paved the way for the internment of tens of thousands of noncitizens and US citizens of Japanese descent.
Trump’s proposal and rhetoric are part of a growing undercurrent of Islamophobia that is making life difficult for the estimated 3m Muslims in the US.
Hate crimes against Muslim Americans have surged since the November terrorist attacks in Paris and the December massacre in San Bernardino, California, which were both claimed by Islamic State.
In 2015, civil rights groups recorded nearly 80 bias incidents at mosques throughout the US. It was the highest number logged since two organisations, including the Council on American- Islamic Relations, began tracking such cases in 2009.
In a report released this week, the groups noted a four-fold increase in bias incidents — which include vandalism, harassment, property damage and intimidation — from 2014, when 20 cases were recorded nationwide. By contrast, the groups tracked 17 incidents at US mosques in both November and December 2015 — the highest single-month totals ever recorded.
The stereotypes and xenophobia perpetuated by Trump and other demagogues have more subtle effects than outright violence. They shape a social climate in which many Muslims and Arabs are treated as potential terrorists. Four days after the Paris attacks in November, a community meeting over plans for a new mosque in the state of Virginia turned into a frightening example of the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping parts of America. Samer Shalaby, an engineer and mosque trustee who was trying to explain the building plans, was heckled and shouted down by audience members.
“Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult in this county,” one man shouted while pointing his finger at Shalaby, as others in the audience cheered.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that this does not happen,” the heckler, who identified himself as a former US marine, continued. “Because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.”
One US poll released in September found that more than half of Americans, and 83% of Republicans, believe that Muslims should be barred from seeking the presidency. Another poll in November found that 56% of Americans view Islam as at “odds with American values and way of life.”
One irony is that many Muslims around the world want to foster a better relationship with the US and the West. In a long-term Gallup poll, conducted from 2006 to 2010, residents of 39 majority-Muslim countries were asked whether they supported greater interaction with the West. A majority of people in 38 of the countries surveyed (all except Afghanistan) viewed closer relationships as a benefit, rather than a harm.
But this research carries little weight with many Republicans in the US, especially Trump’s supporters. In January, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Republicans want politicians to express “blunt talk” about Islam, even if such discussion includes blanket criticism of the faith.
While the rest of the world is shocked by Trump’s declaration that “Islam hates us,” his blunt talk resonates with many Republican voters. And it is a major reason that Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination — a victory partly built on the demonisation of Islam.