Donald Trump's proposal to ban the entrance of Muslims has garnered criticism around the world
Frida Ghitis: Trump diminishes America's ability to inspire others with his words of intolerance
Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
A British soldier has now taken up the cause against Donald Trump’s remarks about Muslims, saying in a Facebook post gone viral that he refuses to turn against Muslims because a Muslim man caused his grave battlefield injuries. “Yes,” wrote Chris Herbert, “a Muslim man blew me up and I lost my leg.” He added, “A Muslim man also lost his arm that day wearing a British uniform…A Muslim medic was in the helicopter that took me from the field. A Muslim surgeon performed the surgery that saved my life.”
The intensity of the global response to Donald Trump’s proposal to ban the entrance of Muslims to the United States is something to behold. It should offer comfort to Muslims and all those who want to see pluralism – freedom of religion, freedom of thought – triumph against the forces of hatred and intolerance. We simply cannot cast sweeping judgment on all members of an entire religion.
Reaction was swift and forceful around the world, but it has been fiercest in the United States, where the White House said Trump’s plan “disqualifies” him from the presidency. Prominent Republicans and Democrats condemned the statements, along with Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.
In Britain, a petition calling for the government to ban Trump from entering the country has received more than 150,000 signatures, enough to bring it up for debate in Parliament. When Trump said parts of London have become so radicalized and that police fear going there, Mayor Boris Johnson shot back, “The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
The French prime minister, like many others, correctly said Trump’s rhetoric plays into the hands of terrorists. “Our only enemy,” he said, “is radical Islamism.”
In Latin America, whose people came earlier on Trump’s parade of insults, the latest affront by the Republican front-runner is also making news, but it is hardly a surprise. Trump’s name is already a dirty word south of the border.
In the Middle East, Trump’s anti-Muslim approach to security has predictably caused anger and consternation. His plan to “shut down” Muslim immigration was called “unacceptable … an insult to our religion” in the United Arab Emirates. Egypt’s top religious authority decried his “hostile view of Islam and Muslims” and predicted it would create tension between America’s Muslims and the rest of society.
In other Muslim-majority countries, the reaction was similar. Malaysia’s former law minister spewed, “If an idiot like Donald Trump can be contender for President, it speaks volumes about America.”
Trump’s tone and tactics, aimed squarely at winning votes, are not only harmful to our effort against ISIS, they erode America’s position in the world as a beacon of equality, freedom and tolerance.
Trump diminishes America’s ability to inspire others, and he weakens liberal Muslims who would like to bring more tolerance to their own societies.
We need to ask two important questions. First, why do Trump’s inflammatory anti-Muslim statements gain traction in America? A country whose population I am convinced is more tolerant of religious and national diversity than perhaps that of any other country.
Second, will we demand the people who condemn Trump’s bigoted statements refrain from hypocrisy when their own records are no better, and in many cases, are far worse?
It’s worth noting that some Western countries have their own versions of Donald Trump. France’s Marine Le Pen’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant party – the far-right National Front – finished first in France’s regional elections just a few days ago.
In the Netherlands, whose foreign minister condemned Trump, the most popular party today is the Party of Freedom, whose anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform has made what was once inconceivable possible: that its leader, Geert Wilders, could become a contender for prime minister in 2017. Wilders was one of the few world leaders praising Trump, tweeting, “I hope @realDonaldTrump will be the next US President. Good for America, good for Europe. We need brave leaders.”
The reason Wilders, Trump and Le Pen are doing well in the polls is because voters are not persuaded by the alternative approaches presented by the mainstream. Sure, Trump, in particular, is a master of media manipulation. But there’s more than marketing prowess at play.
His views on terrorism resonate because others’ don’t. The public is deeply disillusioned with President Obama’s response to ISIS. And the reluctance of so many politicians to even utter the term “Islamist” makes them seem dishonest and untrustworthy. It lends weight to Trump’s argument that their strategy is falling victim to political correctness.
There’s plenty of room for others to look in the mirror when they criticize Trump’s prejudice. Egyptian authorities, for example, don’t like Trump’s intolerance of Muslims. A Pew Research poll found that only 18% of Egyptians think non-Muslims in their country are free to practice their religion. And that was not the worst part. A majority of those saying there is no religious freedom for non-Muslims in Egypt said they believe that’s a good thing.
The sad truth is that religious freedom is very limited or nonexistent in some of the countries that sound most deeply offended by Trump’s intolerance.
Pakistanis denounced Trump’s prejudice, but Christians and other religious minorities are under attack there. Most of the Muslim-majority countries who found it unacceptable that Trump suggests banning Muslims from entering the United States are themselves countries that forbid entry to anyone holding an Israeli passport or having ever visited Israel, a policy whose application falls most squarely on Jews.
America should – and will – remain one of the world’s champions of religious freedom. It’s heartbreaking to see a man who claims he wants to be president tarnish his country’s ability to perform such an important role of moral leadership.
Trump’s repugnant utterances don’t just tell us what we know about him. They tell us how important it is to speak honestly and protect everybody’s freedom, everywhere.