Posted by Arab American Institute on December 29, 2015 in Blog

Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric poisons GOP

trump1.jpegThe world is a much more divisive place than it was in the 1980’s when I had the privilege to serve as the first Palestinian American appointed by a president and confirmed by the Senate.  Back then, the Republican Party welcomed Arab Americans and American Muslims with open arms. The 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign was the first U.S. presidential campaign to create an Arab American committee, at a time when the Mondale campaign was returning the checks of Arab American contributors. I have been involved in every Republican presidential campaign since the 1980 election.  In 1984 I was the executive director of the Ethnic Voters division of the Reagan-Bush campaign, an effort that included 43 nationalities and a network of over 100,000 volunteers in 36 states.  Since then I have been involved in the leadership of the Arab American and American Muslim committees of every Republican Presidential candidate, including chairing the Arab American committee in both campaigns of President George W. Bush.   

Each election cycle brings a level of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric which denigrates the caliber of the campaign.  Usually it entails attacks on Arab Gulf states for the price of oil, but this campaign, in the period of Daesh, has seen anti-Muslim and anti-Arab vitriol reach unparalleled levels. This must stop before our national interest in achieving and maintaining harmonious relations with the world's Arabs and its more than a billion Muslims is irreparably harmed, not to mention our own citizenry of nearly 3.6 million Arab Americans and 2.6 million American Muslims. 

Donald Trump, with his call for a ban on all Muslim and Syrian immigration, is leading a poisonous charge, and has clearly polluted the political atmosphere -- so much so that other candidates feel they need to support his racist themes in order to boost their credentials. While everyone is concerned about terrorism in the homeland, the broad brush with which Arabs and Muslims are being painted is reminiscent of the racist themes of previous decades -- themes which our nation has largely grown out of.  Furthermore, Trump's anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian rhetoric risks becoming a recruitment tool for Daesh by feeding into their own narrative.   

The sad fact is that Arabs and Muslims are the only people that a candidate for high elected office in our country today can attack with impunity.  We as a nation, especially the press and the public, would never allow the sorts of negative stereotypes being publicly discussed about Arabs and Muslims to occur if the targeted groups were Black, Jewish or Asian.  It has been illegal in the United States to discriminate against anyone based upon their race, religion or national origin since passage of our nation’s civil rights laws over 50 years ago.  Why it is acceptable to attack this one ethnic group when so many millions of American citizens are Arab American or Muslim?  This hurtful rhetoric must stop.  It should no longer be considered acceptable today for a candidate to attack and paint an entire community with such a broad, negative brush.   

I recall with great pride and appreciation the actions of the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. President Bush admonished the nation that this was a war against Al Qaeda, and not against Arabs, Arab Americans, Muslims or American Muslims. He went to a mosque and reiterated that Islam was a religion of peace. Many of us in leadership positions in the Arab American and American Muslim communities at the time participated in meetings with senior U.S. government officials helping craft messages and language to communicate that these enemies of the United States did not represent the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims in the world today, especially here in the United States. How far we have fallen in the public discourse since then.

There are rays of sunshine in this bleak picture.  Many of the Republican candidates for president, including Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.), and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) have been far more balanced, and in fact have defended the community when asked. Their experience as governors informs their responsible statements and attitudes. Each of them as governor dealt extensively with the ethnic communities in their states, and appointed Arab Americans and American Muslims to senior positions.  In the town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire they speak responsibly about not painting an entire community with the negative broad brush of terrorism, and the sorts of indignities that members of these communities have had to face when being appointed or confirmed.  

We need to look no further than last week’s Republican debate to see that the roots of the Republican party remain open and welcoming.  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered apologies to Muslims stating unequivocally that, “he does not represent us” in reference to the bigotry of Trump. We need for all Americans to reject these negative attacks as un-American and not representative of our values as a society and as a nation.  The negative effects on the Arab and Muslim populations of the world, including our fellow citizens, are significant.  We need for them to know that this sort of rhetoric, especially as part of a campaign for the highest office in our nation, will not stand.  Our Arab allies, the American people, and the Arab and Muslim people throughout the world deserve no less.