Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The Donald’s Nazi-era suggestion is a cause for immense concern.
Local leaders have refused to take in Syrian refugees (even though they technically can’t reject the federal government’s decisions on matters of refugee resettlement). The House of Representatives passed a bill that aims to make an already-rigorous, long resettlement process even more bureaucratic. The bill would make it harder for refugees from Syria and Iraq, who themselves are fleeing ISIS-perpetrated violence and are unlikely to pose security threats, to gain asylum to the U.S.
These politicians are continuing the nation’s long tradition of being hostile to refugees. But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is focusing the hostility on the Muslim population that already resides within the U.S. In an interview with NBC News on Thursday night, Trump supported the idea of tracking America’s Muslim citizens in a national database:
"I would certainly implement that. Absolutely," Trump said in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign town halls. "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases," he added. "We should have a lot of systems."
Trump spoke about some of these “systems” with Yahoo News. In his arsenal, should he become president, would be things like religious identification on ID cards, searches without warrants, and the revival of an extremely problematic Mosque surveillance program. While Trump’s penchant for making problematic remarks about immigrants is nothing new, these latest ones are particularly scary.
There’s a long history here, and it’s not good
Ethnic identification on ID cards has been used to profile and target ethnic groups around the world, according to a study by Prevent Genocide International. How would Trump’s program for Muslims be any different from the J-stamp that Jews had on their ID cards in Nazi Germany starting in 1939? Or the one used to distinguish between Hutus and Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide? Or from the tags identifying Japanese-Americans who were interred in camps around the country after Pearl Harbor?
“You tell me,” Trump answered when asked about these dangerous similarities by NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard. For Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the nonprofit Interfaith Alliance, the reply to Trump is: no different. Via NBC News:
"My father was in World War II, and he fought to preserve America against what the Nazis were doing," Moline told NBC News."This is exactly why there is an America, to not be like that," he said.
Muslims have been here before
Public opinion of Muslims in America wasn’t all that positive even before 9/11, and the backlash right after has been well-documented. In a poll conducted by NPR and the Kennedy School of Government Civil Liberties in November 2001, 59 percent of respondents said that a person’s religious affiliation should be mentioned on a national identification card:
Even a decade-plus later, anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. hasn’t softened, but worsened. Hate crimes against them remain frequent. A rigorous study conducted by sociologists at Northwestern University, MIT, and Harvard found that Arabs and Muslims were the most dehumanized group in America—even more so after terrorist attacks.
Given that Trump is leading the polls among his GOP peers, and that he is one of the two presidential candidates (the other being Hillary Clinton) that the American public is looking to address terrorism-related issues, his words play an important role in orienting this public opinion regarding Muslims. That’s why his latest approach to making America Great Again is so concerning—it threatens the safety and well-being of the many Muslims who call the country home.