Donna Brazile: The rhetoric from some candidates on Muslims is unlike anything I've heard in U.S. politics
The GOP would be wise to remember that people are listening, she writes
Editor’s Note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for civic engagement and voter participation at the Democratic National Committee. A nationally syndicated columnist, she is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
All in all, since the last GOP debate, the week and a half of hand wringing over the debate process has seen all of the posturing, recrimination and in-fighting that any fan of politics could want. And with debates over debates like this, who needs actual debates?
Given Trump’s knack for stealing the spotlight, it’s easy to think he’s alone in his Islamophobic views. That would be a mistake. The other GOP presidential hopefuls may not share Trump’s penchant for rabble-rousing, but they’re complicit in creating a deeply troubling atmosphere.
And I’m not talking about the typical stand-on-the-sidelines sort of complicity. No, these Republican candidates are actively – and dangerously – bringing us back to scarier times with their fear-based proposals and angry rhetoric:
Ted Cruz called for closing the border to Syrian Muslims while allowing Syrian Christians to pass through. Jeb Bush, too, wants Syrian refugees to “prove” that they’re Christian before entering the United States. How is that supposed to work? Will refugees need to swear on a Bible? Convert to save their lives? Spain once tried to make religion a condition for residency. That was back in the 1400s; they called it the Inquisition.
Ben Carson compared some Syrian refugees to dogs – with “mad dogs” among them. Comparing people to animals is textbook propaganda, and it often leads to some pretty nasty places (think: “vermin,” “blight,” “eradicate”). Just imagine Carson’s words blown up on a 20-foot poster.
Marco Rubio equated Muslims to “Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party, but weren’t violent themselves.” Shameful. It was only last century that our elected leaders lumped Japanese Americans alongside our overseas enemies. The end result was internment camps, a concept that Trump refused to dismiss.
Less popular candidates are inciting their own mini firestorms. Rand Paul recently – and falsely – claimed that the Boston Marathon bombers came to the U.S. as refugees, while the always jocular Mike Huckabee said of Syrian refugees, “It’s time to wake up and smell the falafel.” Such lies and stereotypes put Muslims in a separate, secondary class. As Europe has learned, it’s dangerous to marginalize a group of one’s own citizens.
I know I may get blowback by invoking some of the darker moments in history. And it’s true: Banning Muslims isn’t national policy – not yet, thankfully. Assuming that large numbers of rational people vote, I like to hope that American democracy can put a stop to such extremism. Still, what we’re seeing here is unlike anything we have seen in modern politics. And it’s wrong.
As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel once said, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”
I’ve been on TV for a long time, and in campaigns even longer. And I’ve faced bigotry firsthand in my work with civil rights leaders. But hate speech of this kind, and among this many candidates? I haven’t come across anything quite like this.
The GOP would be wise to remember that people are listening. Refugees from Syria are listening as they look to America as a beacon of hope. ISIS recruiters are listening as they frame a narrative of a second Crusade. And right-wing extremists in our own backyard are listening as they dream of becoming one-man militias.
According to an FBI report released last month, while hate crimes are down for nearly all categories, hate crimes against Muslims are in fact on the rise. The Republicans’ incendiary messages can only make matters worse.
Public hateful speech is not safe. And it’s certainly not presidential. Trump and company should think before they speak. After all, words carry weight – and very real consequences.