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Trump says Muslims aren't helping fight terrorism. Bullshit.

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Just a day after the Belgium attacks, Donald Trump had already begun blaming Muslims as a whole for the attack, saying the Muslim community is sheltering terrorists from law enforcement.

"It's like they're protecting each other," Trump said in an interview with ITV Britain on Wednesday. "They have to report the bad ones. And if you report the bad ones, then all of a sudden you're not going to have the problems."

"I would say this to the Muslims, and in the United States also: When they see trouble, they have to report it," he continued. "And they're not reporting it. They're absolutely not reporting it. And that's a big problem."

Trump's claims are false. The statistics are clear: In the US, Muslim communities have been extraordinarily forthcoming with the police in terrorism cases.

But, as is often the case with Trump, the actual fact of the lie isn't the biggest issue; rather, the broader ideology underlying it is. In this case, it's the idea that Muslim communities are uniquely and collectively responsible for Islamist terrorism.

Of course Muslims cooperate with the authorities

Funerals For Police Officers Killed In Charlie Hebdo Attack In Bobigny
A scene from a funeral for police officers killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Let's dispense with the fiction that Trump has identified a major problem here. He has not.

In 2014, University of North Carolina sociologist Charles Kurzman identified 188 cases since 9/11 where the police had publicly identified a Muslim American as a suspected terrorist and disclosed where the initial tip came from. Of those 188, 54 individuals were brought to the government's attention via tips from members of the Muslim-American community. Muslim Americans were the single largest source of tips identified in Kurzman's study.

Another study, by the University of Maryland's Alejandro Beutel, looked at plots broken up by law enforcement. He found Muslim community members provided critical information in two out of every five disrupted plots between 2001 and 2011.

The point isn't to say that relations between Muslim communities and police are perfect, either in the US or (especially) Europe. But saying that there are problems in the way police relate to Muslims does not amount to evidence that Muslim communities are systematically sheltering "the bad ones" from police attention.

Trump's problem here is much bigger than a factual error

Presidential Candidates Address AIPAC Policy Conference (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But by engaging too much with the question of whether Muslims are "cooperating enough," we risk playing on Trump's terms. His framing of the issue, in the above Guardian interview, is simple: There are bad Muslims, and the good Muslims need to stand up and stop them.

The problem with this framing is that it positions Muslims in the West as guilty until proven innocent. It assumes the entire Muslim community knows who the terrorists among them are, and refuse to tell the authorities out of either fear or spite.

But this is absurd: Jihadists make up only a tiny percentage of the Muslim population. In Belgium, widely considered to have the worst jihadism problem in Europe, only 500 people have left the country to fight in Syria or Iraq. Muslim communities as a whole aren't sitting on knowledge about jihadi activity. Yet Trump assumes otherwise, basically implying collective guilt among Muslims for terrorist attacks.

This is the logic by which Trump justifies all of his most extreme policies. Ban Muslims from entering the United States? We have to, until we can "figure out what's going on" with them (a line he repeated in his Guardian interview). Kill the families of ISIS members? That's because innocent Muslims can be held responsible for the activities of jihadists they happen to be related to.

Trump's comments here aren't just an aberration, then. They represent a core part of what's repulsive about Trumpism. The idea that all members of a group deserve to be treated the same, collectively, is antithetical to the basic norms we take for granted in liberal democracies today: that it's wrong to treat people a certain way because of their identity.

When it comes to Muslims (and some other groups, like Mexicans), Trump simply doesn't share that view. And the policies he wants to put in place reflect that.