Chattanooga Shooting Fuels Anti-Muslim Reaction
Never mind the fact that Mohammod Abdulazeez, the Chattanooga shooter, was gravely mentally troubled and abused alcohol and drugs. Also never mind that, by some estimates, rightwing extremists have killed five times as many people in the United States since 9/11 as have fundamentalist Muslims.
The Reverend Franklin Graham (son of preacher Billy) actually proposed that the United States institute an immediate ban on Muslim immigrants.
“Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized—and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad,” Graham posted on Facebook. “During World War II, we didn't allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we've got to put a stop to this and close the floodgates.”
Graham’s comments are disturbing on several levels. Not only does he call for people of a certain faith to be prohibited from coming here, he also endorses the problematic policies that the United States had toward some ethnic groups during World War II.
“Franklin Graham's comment about shutting Muslims out of America is exclusionary, disappointing, illegal, and a betrayal of the loftiest, though not yet fully realized, aspirations of the American dream,” Duke University Professor Omid Safi tells me. “That such a voice of exclusion and violence comes from a religious leader should give us all great pause.”
Safi, who heads the Duke Islamic Center, himself received a taste of Franklin’s vitriol when his university cancelled plans earlier this year to broadcast Muslim Friday prayers from its chapel after a campaign led by the preacher.
Retired General Wesley Clark, a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, joined the anti-Muslim chorus in an MSNBC interview.
“If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle fine,” he said, again referring back to World War II. “It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”
It’s astounding how open-ended and vague Clark’s proposal is.
“Clark seems to view [World War II] history as worth repeating, even though we would be interning people for what he calls the exercise of their rights,” writes George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley. “The ‘disloyalty’ shown in the exercise of free speech would presumably be the basis for internment, since any actual disloyal acts would likely be crimes punishable in their own right.”
At least Clark is not an elected official currently running for President. Senator Rand Paul is, and he had thoughts of his own about how to deal with Muslim immigrants.
“I'm going to have our subcommittee and maybe committee in Homeland Security look into whether or not we could reinstitute this NSEERS [National Security Entry Exit Registration System] program—it was an entry-exit program that was heightened scrutiny for twenty-five predominantly Muslim countries that have significant jihadist movements and anti-American sentiment in their country,” he said in an interview. “We need increased scrutiny on those countries before those people come to our country to visit or permanently. We have to have heightened scrutiny.”
The program Paul wants reinstated was a witch-hunt under the Bush Administration that resulted in numerous Muslim immigrants being deported, often for minor visa violations. Besides, his stance puts him at odds with his own libertarian philosophy, which, at least in theory, calls for free movement of goods and people across borders.
Perhaps Paul is attempting to appeal to the Republican base, which is a sad reflection on the party. He’ll be joining rivals such as Governor Bobby Jindal, who has falsely asserted that there are “no-go” zones in certain British cities for non-Muslims. Five GOP presidential contenders are attending this weekend a conference organized by Frank Gaffney, a notorious Islamophobic conspiracy-mongerer who has suggested in the past that Obama is a Muslim.
The widespread presence—and acceptability—of anti-Muslim sentiment is distressing.
Still, Safi is optimistic.
“It is my hope and all of our hopes that we find a way to form a more perfect union, to struggle for greater and great inclusion and justice for all of us, rather than calling for internments of people not on the basis of what they have done (or not done), but simply based on their nationality, color of their skin, or faith in their heart,” he says.