Donald Trump, the leading contender to become the Republican party’s nominee for US presidential candidate, has called for a “total and complete shutdown” of the country’s borders to Muslims in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
Trump made his most extreme pledge yet – in a race in which he has consistently pushed the boat out on issues of race and immigration – in a statement released to the media through his presidential campaign team.
He said there was such hatred among Muslims around the world towards Americans that it was necessary to rebuff them en masse, until the problem was better understood.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” the billionaire real estate developer said.
Trump put out his incendiary proposal just hours before he was scheduled to appear at a rally on board the USS Yorktown, a second world war aircraft carrier that is berthed near Charleston, South Carolina. The military location was carefully chosen for an address that falls on the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the war. After being interrupted several times aboard the ship, he said the proposal was “probably not politically correct, but I don’t care”.
To justify his extreme call for a total rejection of all Muslims seeking to enter the US, Trump turned to what he claimed to be polling data that underlined what he said was the violent hatred of followers of the faith toward Americans. However, the statement cites the Center for Security Policy, an organisation branded extremist by anti-race-hatred campaigners at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Shariah authorises such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women,” Trump’s “policy statement” said.
The former reality TV star added: “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine.”
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 we have to be vigilant.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Trump senior policy adviser Sam Clovis said: “I don’t think there is anything wrong about asking about religious affiliation.”
Trump’s remarks immediately drew condemnation from Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, who tweeted: “@realdonaldtrump removes all doubt: he is running for President as a fascist demagogue.” Other politicians on both sides of the aisle quickly followed suit – including former vice-president Dick Cheney.
Trump has come under fire before for his contentious views on how to deal with the threat of domestic radicalization of Muslims. He has refused to rule out creating a government database of all American Muslims.
He has also called for the deportation of 11 million undocumented Hispanics, as well as said were he elected president, he would build a wall along the border with Mexico.
Since the Paris attacks orchestrated by Islamic State, and last week’s attack in San Bernardino, California by a married couple inspired by the terror group, Trump has sought to build his already substantial lead over his Republican presidential rivals by portraying himself as being tougher than all others on national security.
He responded in a tweet on Sunday night to President Obama’s Oval Office address on combating the Isis threat by saying: “Is that all there is? We need a new President – FAST!”
In his address to the nation on Sunday night, the president was at his most passionate when he made an appeal to Americans for tolerance in the aftermath of the California shooting.
Obama specifically sought to underscore that while Muslims have a responsibility to identify and reject extremism within their ranks, Americans cannot lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of Islam’s more than a billion followers are peaceful.
“We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” Obama said. “That, too, is what groups like Isil want. Isil does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers. Part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology.
“Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country,” he added. “We have to remember that.”
Trump’s threat was met with perplexed anger on the part of prominent Muslim American groups. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the largest such group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said on Twitter: “Where is there left for him to go? Are we talking internment camps? Are we talking the final solution?”
Republican presidential rival Lindsey Graham, one of a number who have seen their prospects of making headway in the campaign subsumed by Trump’s dominance, said: “What has been in the past absurd and hateful has turned dangerous.”
He told the Guardian: “Donald Trump today took xenophobia and religious bigotry to a new level. His comments are hurting the war effort and putting our diplomats and soldiers serving in the Middle East at risk. The way to win this war is to reach to the vast majority of people in Islamic faith who reject Isil and provide them the capability to resist this ideology.
“Today’s statement embraces a ‘fortress America’ approach, is doomed to fail and shows a complete lack of understanding by Donald Trump as to what the war is all about. As to interpreters and others who have helped American military in Iraq and Afghanistan, this policy, if enacted, would be a death sentence.”
Trump’s choice of polling data to hold up his highly controversial views was in itself inflammatory. He cited data that purported to show that a quarter of those Muslims polled – Trump did not specify what the sample group was, nor even what part of the world he was referring to – “agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of global jihad”.
More than half of the unspecified sample group “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah”.
The data was drawn from the Center for Security Policy, a neoconservative thinktank based in Washington DC whose founder and president, Frank Gaffney, is a prominent US Islamophobe. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate speech in the country, has described Gaffney as being “gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the west from within”.
The SPLC said that “Gaffney believes that ‘creeping Shariah’, or Islamic religious law, is a dire threat to American democracy”.
In 2011, Gaffney, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, was barred from the influential Conservative Political Action Conference having suggested that two of its organizers had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs in Washington – © Guardian News & Media, 2015