The recent wave of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s political rhetoric succeeded in distracting the nation from the true and genuine threat facing it. The threat of terrorism, which President Barack Obama described as a “real threat,” should be the focus. Trump succeeded in grabbing headline news and managed to be the talk of everyone across the nation and the world by demonizing Muslims who constitute 1 out of every 5 human beings on Earth.
It is tempting to consider Trump a mere distraction or a buffoon with big hair. However, his position as a leading candidate of major political party is cause for alarm. His rhetoric will continue to get coarser at every possible occasion in a calculation that verbal attacks on Muslims are popular with a significant segment of the population. That popularity is due mainly to the consistent othering and demonizing of Muslims that started after 9/11.
Despite his many shortcomings and controversial legacy as to human rights in the U.S. and abroad, former President, George W. Bush is a great enlightened statesman in comparison to Trump. Our concern and our fear is that Trump, wittingly or unwittingly, or with callous indifference, is playing into the hands of terrorists whose very existence and success is a function of convincing the naive and the criminal types that the U.S. and other Western countries are at war with Islam and Muslim itself and not only with groups that are classified as terrorist.
As a human-rights organization, we see human beings and human rights suffering from the Trump campaign. If not immoral, the campaign’s tactics are clearly amoral. Ordinary Muslims have no control over the actions of foreign or domestic terrorists and the legitimate fear of Muslim-Americans is that Trump is desensitizing the public regarding bigoted rhetoric and bigoted proposals. American-Muslims are living in real fear in these very dangerous days. The Trump campaign and the acts of terrorists are denying Muslim-Americans the right to live in safety secure in their future.
The Trump candidacy calls for a constructive, open and frank discussion on why he has gotten this far given outrageous statements on Muslims-Americans and others. More people of good will should be condemning bigotry unequivocally and deny all legitimacy to hate whatever the source. These sensitive times require us to build bridges of understanding, not burn these bridges.
Arab- and Muslim-Americans are an integral part of this great nation and this is a fact. They have rights because they are citizens and most fundamentally, they have rights as the brothers and sisters in humanity of all the other members of humankind. Today, more than right after 9/11, Muslim-Americans feel the most unsafe and the least secure in their future.
In the aftermath of the national tragedy of Sept 11, a federal judge in Detroit told a number of attorneys being sworn before the U.S. District Court that – as lawyers in a country facing such a crisis – it was their job to defend and uphold the Constitution. Muslim- and Arab-Americans did not ask for it, but today, the honor of defending the U.S. constitution and American values, is the obligation and duty of Muslim- and Arab-Americans and Americans of good conscience who stand by them in these extraordinarily dangerous times.
Imad Hamad is executive director of the American Human Rights Council, based in Dearborn.