Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country caused significant and justified outrage on both sides of the partisan divide on Monday. The swift reaction stands in stark contrast to what has happened in other countries when these sorts of comments have been made. For example in France, Marine Le Pen leads the nation’s third most viable electoral party and yet has been charged with hate speech. In India, Narendra Modi has built a career on anti-Muslim rhetoric (despite trying to whitewash this over the past few years) and is now the Prime Minister with a rock star vibe like President Obama had in 2009. In Turkey, the once secular nation has now become a haven for Islamist thought, empowering Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President to reverse the secular principles the nation was founded on and impose a certain degree of state sponsored religious thought. He’s a self-described “conservative democrat,” which basically means “I believe in democracy because I win with my ultra-conservative religious views.”
By stark contrast, figures like Le Pen, Modi and Erdogan do not get much traction in the United States. Donald Trump has been roundly condemned by the media and figures in his own party over the last 24 hours for his comments that the US should place a ban on Muslims entering the country. In France, the conservative media backs up Le Pen when she makes similar outlandish statements, in India much of the press has eaten out of Modi’s hands and uses terrorist attacks such as the Mumbai bombings of 2008 to justify Hindu Nationalism even though it came AFTER Modi and his party, the BJP began subtle persecutions of Muslims in Western India. In Turkey, Erdoğan is opposed rhetorically by intellectuals and pro-western media figures but has allowed much of his population to become radicalized to where almost ten million Turks according to opinion polls identify with many of the tenets of radical Islam.
Speaker Paul Ryan did the right thing today as Jeb Bush did the right thing yesterday. While I oppose these conservative figures politically, they have shown the best of American tolerance and thought with the instant denunciations of Trump’s damaging rhetoric. The mainstream figures of the Republican Party have impressed me in the way they stepped up on this – I believed they would follow the lead of Ted Cruz, now in many circles the presumptive GOP nominee with his nuanced support of Trump’s comments. But some like Lindsay Graham did especially well, calling Trump’s comments both bigotted and pivoting to how it hurts national security.
Senator Graham said:
“is putting at risk the lives of interpreters, American supporters, diplomats, and the troops in the region by making these bigoted comments.”
This is the right way to frame things – without the support of populations within Muslim countries, the US is in grave danger, and the reality of the current situation is the outrageous statements of Trump and the Islam-baiting on FOX News contributes to the propaganda IS/Deash uses to recruit jihadists. At the same time, as I have previously stated I do not believe the American left fully understands the fascist and dangerous nature of radical Islam. But unlike many on the right, I do understand President Obama’s hesitation to use vocabulary that will further inflame tensions – those on the right especially at FOX News who get so hung up on the President’s calming rhetoric pushing him to exhibit the belligerent tone they advocate toward the region. Democrats who are more concerned about electoral success than the welfare of this nation or the women and men we send into battle (the same types of Democrats that helped give us the Iraq War) have also felt Obama has been too soft – but the President’s approach contrary to the rhetoric they exhibit is appreciated overseas. This is why Jimmy Carter is seen as a far more enlightened and positive figure outside this nation than any other American postwar President. It is very possible that Obama might follow the same path in terms of reverence after he leaves office.
But despite these disagreements on tone and policy, the United States both media wise and politically showed it doesn’t tolerate the type of rhetoric that so many other countries, even ones like France which the American left often cite as examples of “tolerance” seem to permit. Trump is a dangerous figure but his presence and the sharp condemnations he is receiving reinforce the faith so many of us have in America.
I am proud to be an American, despite my qualms with the right in this country. At the same time, I personally do not identify myself as an Indian-American but an American, because while I am proud of Indian culture (which includes Muslim culture) I cannot and will not idenitfy with the conservative forces culturally that have overrun that nation, making it a haven for male chauvinism and closeted racism. A figure like Trump would get elected in India, in fact one significantly worse already has.
While the Republican Party still is a bad deal for America, at least many of the leaders of that party didn’t waste time in condemning something that was bad for America, even if it had political benefits to them at a time where fear, driven by media sensationalism is taking root across the country. American is great because we are good – even when I feel alone and isolated in this nation which tends to favor anti-intellectual political thought over serious policy, moments like this bring me back to that statement.