There was something new — and utterly terrifying — in Donald Trump’s speech on Monday in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting: his portrayal of American Muslims as an internal enemy lurking among us.
Sure, he’s said Muslims are a threat who must be "temporarily" banned from entering the US before, but what he said about the peaceful Muslims living in America was a new level for him:
Now, the Muslim communities so importantly, they have to work with us. They have to cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad. And they know it. And they have to do it and they have to do it forthwith. …
They know what is going on. They know that [the Orlando shooter] was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what, they didn't turn them in, and we had death and destruction. …
[W]hen people know what is going on and they don't tell us and we have an attack and people die, these people have to have consequences. Big consequences. America must do more, much more, to protect its citizens. …
Trump is spinning a wild conspiracy theory: the idea that American Muslims secretly know who all the terrorists are. He's painting the entire American Muslim community as a fifth column — a devious enemy secretly undermining the very nation in which they live.
But Trump is also tapping into some of the darkest aspects of American history. The idea that we should, McCarthy-style, search for enemies among us or risk being painted one ourselves is not so far in our past. And it’s truly frightening to Muslim Americans like me.
But it should also scare every single American, because we’ve seen this sort of thing happen before in our country — with disastrous consequences.
Muslims already report terrorist activity and extremist views to the authorities all the time
Muslim Americans are already actively working to prevent terrorist attacks and counter extremism in our own communities. We're good Americans, and we want to stop terrorists from carrying out attacks in our name just as much as (and perhaps even more than) anyone else.
According to Gallup, "Since 9/11, the Muslim-American community has helped security and law enforcement officials prevent nearly two of every five al Qaeda terrorist plots threatening the United States." Gallup also found that "tips from the Muslim-American community are the largest single source of initial information to authorities about these few plots."
We are perhaps more aware than anyone of the consequences of not doing so. Not only do Muslims want to stop the direct loss of life and destruction that can result from an attack, but we also want to halt the damage to our image as a religion and a community whenever someone carries out an attack in our name. American Muslims have every reason to report suspected terrorism activity, and we're not going to stop doing it just because a few politicians say ugly things about us to win votes.
The idea that Muslim Americans are mostly migrants and that Islam is a foreign phenomenon in America is patently false. In the past two-plus centuries, Islam and Muslim Americans have been intertwined with American history. Indeed, America’s Founding Fathers deliberately sought to include Islam as they established the principles of religious liberty.
And we continue to be contributing members of American society to this day. We're good neighbors: Muslim organizations raised more than $100,000 to help rebuild black churches in the South that were damaged in arson attacks. We're there to lend a hand in a crisis: Muslim Americans donated 30,000 bottles of water to the Red Cross in Flint, Michigan, to help Flint residents suffering from the water contamination crisis there.
And we're patriotic Americans: We fight and die for this country as members of the US military, we dedicate our lives to public service in the government, and we earn merit badges, sell cookies, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
Trump’s comments shouldn’t just scare Muslim Americans — they should scare all Americans
That a man who could very well be the next US president is characterizing an entire group of Americans as internal enemy of the state just by virtue of their religion or nationality or identity (and irrespective of their actual beliefs) should terrify every single American.
This is the exact same extremism and fearmongering that led the US government to round up and imprison tens of thousands of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II.
Take, for example, the congressional testimony of Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt. DeWitt was head of the US Army’s Western Defense Command in 1942 and was instrumental in the development of Executive Order 9066, which directed the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.
On April 13, 1943, DeWitt testified before a congressional subcommittee on the threat, as he saw it, from Japanese Americans:
I don't want any of them (persons of Japanese ancestry) here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. The west coast contains too many vital installations essential to the defense of the country to allow any Japanese on this coast. …
The danger of the Japanese was, and is now — if they are permitted to come back — espionage and sabotage. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty.
That view that Japanese Americans — just by virtue of their Japanese ancestry — couldn’t be trusted to be loyal to America at a time when the country was at war with Japan led to scenes like this:
That happened in America. Not Nazi Germany. America.
And it happened because regular Americans like you and me allowed a few powerful and influential people in this country to whip up their fears and prejudices to the point that they lost all sense of decency and humanity and brotherhood.
Donald Trump and the anti-Muslim ideologues feeding his dangerous views are doing the exact same thing right now. It’s up to each and every American to make sure we don’t forget our humanity this time around.