Bankole: 2016 race puts Muslims on trial

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Fatina Abdrabboh, the executive director of the Michigan office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), says her office has seen a spike in the number of discrimination complaints relating to Muslim Americans. That is fueled, she said, in part by the level of Islamophobia and bigotry directed against those who profess the Islamic faith in the nation.

And the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, hasn’t helped matters. To fight what he has repeatedly called “Islamic terrorism,” he has called for banning Muslims from entering the United States, which for some Muslim leaders feels like a dagger piercing at the heart of their faith.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” Trump said during the brutal Republican primaries.

The day after winning the Indiana primary, Trump repeated that stance in an NBC-TV interview. A barrage of criticisms has followed the candidate who recently suggested in another TV interview that the ban was a “just a suggestion.” Paul Manafort, a key Trump adviser, in a May 15 interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the candidate is appealing to Democrats and independents.

“There’s no reason for Donald Trump to change,” Manafort said.

Some Muslim-American leaders like Abdrabboh, a lawyer by training, are worried.

“Donald Trump has shown a reckless disregard of how to unify the country, and Muslims in America have become front and center in the receipt of bigotry because of it,” Abdrabboh said. “Trump has sought to tap into people’s anxieties of the unknown and those factors that no one has control over.

Abdrabboh called Trump’s Muslim proposal fraught with legal and practical impossibilities,” because such a divisive and inhumane move she said will be left to the primary function of the legislative branch — Congress — instead of a president going at it alone.

“Trump’s proposals set the notion of diversity in a backwards spiral,” she said. “He has tapped into many pre-existing simmering racist views of exclusion. Win or lose, Trump would have done considerable damage on race relations in our country.”

But Trump has still not reversed his rhetoric and in a recent Fox News Radio interview, said: “We have a serious problem. It’s a temporary ban, it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on. But we have radical Islamic terrorism all over the world.”

Imad Hamad, the director of the American Human Rights Council, said religion should not be used as a wedge issue in this campaign.

“I think it’s disgusting when you use faith as a marker or highlighter in a race like this. I think it’s un-American and I think Trump is putting more focus on Muslims to gain fame,” Hamad said.

Imam Abdullah El-Amin, an African-American Muslim leader at the Muslim Center in Detroit who converted to Islam in 1976, said he is very concerned at the level of the open, hate-filled rhetoric directed at Muslims in the 2016 campaign.

He cited as an example Trump’s former butler Anthony Senecal, who in an NBC News interview called for cities like Detroit and Milwaukee to be bombed for being “totally disgraced by Muslims.”

Senecal, who worked for Trump for 30 years according to a New York Times profile, also last year called for President Barack Obama to be dragged from the “white mosque” and hanged “from the portico.”

The Trump campaign has disavowed Senecal’s comments, calling them “horrible,” yet El-Amin said such remarks “are the effect of the Trump candidacy.”

“These people feel that they have a friend that might be in the White House. So they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on racism,” El-Amin said. “For this fellow (Senecal) to feel so comfortable saying this out in the open I’m sure it’s not the first the time he’s said something like this.”

El-Amin said Muslims should pay attention to what is happening. “Our job also is to show that we are the best Muslims we can be in our lives,” he added. “The terrorist attack in Brussels done by people claiming to be Muslims does not help our image.”

El-Amin is no fan of the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, either.

“I have doubts about her ability, and she doesn’t come across as credible. But she is probably the best of the worst,” El-Amin said. “At least she knows how to have restraint in the things she is saying and proposing.”

Yet, voters in Dearborn, a strong base of Muslim observers in the Metro area, voted overwhelmingly for Clinton’s rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the Michigan Democratic primary in March.

“When it comes to Hillary, many are displeased by her foreign policy record as it relates to the Middle East,” Abdrabboh said. “Many Muslims find her too hawkish on issues of war and intervention.”

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910-AM at noon Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.