Donald Trump has latched onto a wave of xenophobia that might carry him all the way to the White House. He’d stop all Mexicans (they’re rapists, you know) and all Muslims (brutal terrorists) from coming to the United States, by God. And more. He’d expel the ones who are here already – maybe even if they’re citizens. His appeal is based completely on vitriol and bombast, but at its core lies a seemingly irrefutable piece of simplistic Trumpian logic: not all Muslims are terrorists, but some of them are, and we can stay safe from the bad ones if we keep or kick all of them out. The logic for Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants is not quite so stark and direct, but it pretty much comes down to the same perverted syllogism, and refutation requires more than mere denial and rejection.
Liberals who argue that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism only boost Trump’s standing because such denial flies in the face of both empirical evidence and common sense. Whether the terrorist version of Islam is genuine or really from the Koran doesn’t matter. Those who believe in it are Muslims, and if years ago we magically had removed all Muslims from the country there would have been no San Bernardino massacre, no Boston Marathon bombing, no mass shooting at Fort Hood, and of course no 9/11. But would other attacks have occurred in their stead? Aye, there’s the rub that Trump’s one dimensional logic misses or willfully ignores. And the other dimensions are maybe even more important.
Let’s begin with the rest of the empirical evidence. There are more than three million Muslims in the United States – about one percent of the population – and the number who are terrorists or even mildly sympathetic to terrorists is likely in the thousands at most. In Minneapolis, where I live, the local Muslim community works with law enforcement officials to keep its younger members from defecting to groups like ISIS, and they’ve become politically active and engaged in bread and butter American issues like education and environmental protection. There are Muslim members of Congress, Muslim mayors, and prominent businesspeople like Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO and Jawed Karim, co-founder of YouTube. There’s even a Muslim NFL team owner, and a Muslim donated millions to the business school at Georgetown, a Catholic university.
Hispanic Americans now number well over 50 million, and they are approaching 20 percent of our population. Mexican Americans alone come to over 30 million. Do we really want to adopt Nazi-like police tactics to “root out” the millions who are here illegally? Most of the “illegal” adults are gainfully employed, and expelling them would have a double whammy effect on the economy. First would be the cost of tracking them down, but even worse would be the loss of people doing so many of the vital jobs (both menial and more sophisticated) that it takes to keep the country running.
Trump’s xenophobia also flies in the face of religious freedom (a basic First Amendment right) and the freedom from ethnic and religious discrimination so hard won during the post World War II fight for civil rights. Do we really want to give up these fundamental rights because of admittedly horrible, but nonetheless sporadic terrorist incidents? The country is under no threat of a Muslim invasion or occupation, and for all the changes that have occurred in our religious life, we’re still more than 70 percent Christian. Sharia law is not happening here. Ever.
Finally, we should recognize that if we seriously want to combat Islamic terrorism both here and abroad, we need to take full advantage of the knowledge and understanding of our Muslim citizens. In my novel, Impeachment Day, several shopping malls are bombed simultaneously, and figuring out who did it requires the cultural understanding and linguistic skills of a Yemeni American professor. He’s a former Marine, who was originally recruited along with other Arab Americans to serve as interpreters and “cultural guides” in the Middle East.
It’s precisely because we have not indulged xenophobic impulses that Muslims here feel much more at home than they do in Europe. We have occasional defectors, but nothing at all like the alienated and isolated Muslim communities found in France and other European countries. In the current political campaign, the Republicans have made a big deal about how we don’t want to emulate Europe, and in some ways they’re right. Certainly that would be right on avoiding European xenophobia, but sadly that’s the one thing from Europe they do want to copy.
Would xenophobia make us safer, or instead lead to terror attacks like those in France last year, and in almost every other European country in recent years? I think we’re much safer sticking with our traditional tolerance and rejecting Donald Trump and the other Republicans who would turn us into a country with fewer freedoms and no additional security to compensate for the loss.