Not content with alienating single women, Latinos and the LGBT community, the two front-runners for the Republican nomination indulged in some naked Islamophobia this past week.
Donald Trump told an audience member at one of his events that he’d “look into” either expelling America’s Muslim population, or the existence of Jihadi training camps on US soil, depending on how charitably one viewed the exchange.
Then Ben Carson appeared on Meet the Press, where he told Chuck Todd that Islam was inconsistent with the Constitution and said that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”
This kind of bigotry won’t hurt these candidates in the primary. A YouGov poll earlier this year found that only one in five Americans—and one in seven Republicans—held a positive view of Islam. And according to Public Policy polling, only half of Iowa Republicans “think the religion of Islam should even be legal in the United States.” Ben Carson reportedly saw his donations spike after his interview with Todd.
But this kind of callous disregard for a minority that’s faced serious discrimination—and no small amount of violence—should hurt. The candidates reinforced a central tenet—perhaps the central tenet—of anti-Muslim bigotry: That Islam is an inherently foreign religion that’s incompatible with US citizenship. This view is common among shouty people who protest outside mosques and politicians who push those Constitutionally sketchy bans on “Sharia law.”
In that sense, claims that Barack Obama is a crypto-Muslim are really a proxy for the belief that he was born in Kenya and is ineligble to be president. A poll earlier this month found that 66 percent of Trump’s supporters said Obama is a Muslim and 61 percent thought he was born overseas. (Perhaps we shouldn’t give Trump, an avowed “birther,” the benefit of the doubt in his exchange with that guy in the audience.)
It’s a belief based on the kind of widely debunked “history” peddled by David Barton, a popular figure on the tea party circuit who claims that the United States is a “Christian nation” founded by men whose theology resembled Mike Huckabee’s.
But while Muslims are a small minority, Islam is just as American as Christianity. It’s true that a significant share of Muslims living in the U.S. today were born abroad, but it’s also true that from the very beginning, Islam has always been part of the social fabric of this country.
In fact, it’s possible that Muslims got here before the first Christians. According to the PBS special, some historians believe that Muslims first arrived in the Americas in the early 14th century, after being expelled from Spain. Others say that Christopher Columbus referred to a book written by Portuguese Muslims who had navigated to the “New World” in the 12th century during his 1492 voyage.