Demagoguery won out in New Hampshire Tuesday, with real estate mogul Donald Trump riding a wave of xenophobic and anti-establishment hysteria all the way to the top of the ballot in the first-in-the-nation primary.
The bombastic billionaire trounced the other competitors seeking the Republican presidential nomination, buoyed by two-thirds of GOP voters there who expressed support for his plan to ban all non-US citizen Muslims from entering the country.
Trump’s proposal came shortly after the attacks in San Bernardino in December that killed 14 and injured more than 20 people, and several weeks after 130 people were murdered in Paris.
Exit polls conducted at New Hampshire polling sites Tuesday indicated large support for such a prohibition on an entire religion—a religion that’s represented by 1.6 billion people worldwide but makes up less than 1 percent of the US population.
Nayyar Imam, a pharmacist and the first-ever Suffolk County police Muslim chaplain, said he’d think twice about traveling if Trump secures the nomination and eventually moves into the White House.
“It’s a scary situation,” he said, noting that most Muslims in the United States are immigrants who often travel to their homelands or Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimages.
In a previous interview with the Press after Trump initially called for the ban, Habeeb Ahmed of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury became emotional when contemplating a future in which he’d be barred from coming home.
“If he was president, I may not be allowed back in this country,” Ahmed said, his eyes welling up. “And then suddenly, I’m a homeless person.”
Muslims have not been the only population caught in the political crossfire, however. The deep-pocketed presidential contender—and frontrunner for the GOP nomination—has also targeted Mexicans, whom he referred to as rapists and criminals while promising that his administration would pressure Mexico to solely fund the construction of a “beautiful wall” at the southern border.
Trump has stood firmly behind his proposal to ban Muslims, while also condoning torture, and even suggesting he’d use techniques far more brutal than waterboarding on prisoners. Waterboarding and other torture techniques were previously used on detainees nabbed during the Bush administration’s War on Terror, but a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation later found that torture was an ineffective intelligence-gathering tool.
Amid anti-refugee sentiment, Trump also said he’d stare into the face of a Syrian child and tell them they’re not welcome in the United States. Syrian refugees have been fleeing their war-torn country by the thousands in large part due to the merciless killing of Muslims and people deemed apostates by the apocalyptic terror cult ISIS.
“They’re chopping off heads of Christians and many other people in the Middle East,” Trump said. “They’re chopping heads off, [and] they laugh at us when they hear we’re not going to approve waterboarding, and then they’ll have a James Foley and others where they cut off their heads.”
Muslim-advocacy groups—and even President Obama—have directly linked the verbal assault on Muslims by presidential candidates to real-life attacks on Muslim Americans.
Trump is not the only GOP contender accused of making inflammatory remarks toward Muslims, but he is the loudest and the most persistent.
Both Democrats and Republicans have condemned his remarks—which have prompted comparisons to Hitler. Despite the backlash, a large segment of the electorate is energized by anti-immigrant proposals, and they showed it in New Hampshire by heading to the polls in droves.
Muslims throughout the country have condemned atrocities committed in the name of their religion, which they say has been hijacked by bloodthirsty murderers. Locally, the Islamic Center of Long Island created an interfaith institute to promote tolerance between people of different faiths. Long Island Muslims have received widespread support from other religious leaders, who hope their actions could help breakdown dangerous stereotypes.
Imam, SCPD’s Muslim chaplain, questioned whether Trump voters who support his ban proposal have ever previously come in contact with a Muslim American.
He told the story of customer at his pharmacy baffled to learn he was Muslim because he’s “such a nice guy,” insinuating that all Muslims are bad.
Asked if he would travel if Trump became president, Imam said: “I would try to avoid it.”
Imam said interfaith efforts aren’t enough to combat Islamophobia because it often feels like religious leaders are “preaching to the choir.” He wants Muslims to be more involved in the community and get to know their neighbors. Only then, he suggested, would people have a truer understanding of the religion.
(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)