Donald Trump claimed we need to “register all Muslims living in America.” Ted Cruz, while distancing himself from Trump, blamed President Obama for not corralling all Muslims under the collective brand of “Radical, Islamic Terrorism.” As the Iowa Caucuses draw closer and efforts to attract a broad but exclusive base that is anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant, GOP candidates continue to mount fierce, anti-Islamic rhetoric through calls for harsher actions on terrorism, and, by extension, ISIS. They continue the long, but familiar tirade against Obama as a “defender of Islam,” “not tough enough on terrorism,” and lacking in global leadership to crush ISIS. Come the nomination fight that promises to be a lengthy affair, and most likely a three-way struggle between Rubio, Cruz, and Bush (with Trump along for the ride), anti-Islamic messaging will be more resonant and divisive, issuing echoes of Southern Dixiecrats in the Civil Rights Era.
While messages like Trump’s would not attract independent or moderate voters of even his own party, clearly this election will be an “election on foreign policy” rather than domestic issues like the economy. The San Bernardino shootings are not only 48 hours old, and elected officials, reporters, and bloggers have hounded the President for failing to stop Jihadists that infiltrate the United States, or radicalized from abroad. Gun control arguments have quickly turned to discussions about preventing terrorism at home, inflaming the GOP, Tea Party base that heavily criticizes Muslims as a whole as a national security threat. In a press conference today, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz criticized President Obama for not taking tougher actions on terrorism, and trying to take away guns from people who need to protect themselves.
This backlash against the ISIS inspired attack is happening across the country, but nearly flashed at the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, AZ, where protestors and counter-protesters arrived to exercise their right to speak. While the protest ended peacefully and with some dialogue between members of both sides, it shows the charged atmosphere that is boiling over after years of posturing by political leaders on the Right as part of the global war on terror. The inflamed nature of the 2016 elections and the rise of populist candidates like Messrs Trump, Carson, and Cruz has only emboldened tensions between Muslims and predominately White Americans.
The divide in reactions between the two parties throws in sharp contrast how the two political parties are approaching race and religious relations at this time. While GOP presidential candidates talked about registering Muslims, Democrats have sought to unify the party, instead focusing on domestic issues like gun control. Outside of the presidential races, local congressmen and state leaders reached out to Islamic communities in show of solidarity. At the newly opened mosque in Alexandria, VA, just across the Potomac from the nation’s capital and potential target by anti-Muslim right wing groups according to Homeland Security, US Representatives Donald Beyer (VA), Betty McCollum (MN), and Eleanor Norton (DC) attended a service. The War on Terror, 14 years since it was declared, seems to have crystalized along partisan lines alongside race relations in America.
The global reach of the Islamic State has struck terror in the western world in a time when globalization has brought the world closer together through technology, especially social media and other forms of digital communication The attacks on Paris that killed 140 people and wounded many others has a reluctant France engaged in bombing raids in the Middle East. Now San Bernardino will prompt discussions about what Dan de Luce and Lara Jakes called “crowdsourcing terrorism,” a method by which international groups use the Internet to radicalize individual terrorists rather than train and export hardened operatives, like those that carried out the 9/11 attacks. The challenge to American lawmakers, noted the National Review, is that these, like lone-wolves, are hard to predict and uncover, especially given the constitutional and legal protections that forbid investigations based on racial and religious affiliation. However, constitutional arguments have not kept governors from declaring there states ‘out-of-bounds’ to refugees from Syria.
While Donald Trump speaks language that seems repulsive to even moderate Republican candidates, his sentiments is shared by a large core of their party, bring incredible pressure on less reactionary candidates like Rubio, Bush and Kasich. Party leaders in the GOP need to take a stand against this rhetoric, which is ultimately damaging hopes of bipartisanship, and even so far as encouraging radicalization as we know it by fueling a fire already lit by ISIS. The wrong battles are being fought, and the negative campaigning as a result will discourage Muslims in America from trusting their national leaders. The GOP would be wise to heed Robert Gates advice in the Washington Post, and demonstrate their candidate as a unifying figure, instead of dividing Americans by religious and, ultimately, loyalist lines.