A few weeks ago, I attended a very interesting event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. It was sponsored by Zócalo Public Square, a journalism and public discussion organization, and was entitled: “What Does the Japanese American Experience Tell Us About the Proposed Muslim Registry?”
They highlighted the Japanese internment, and discussed how the attack on Pearl Harbor was a “trigger moment” that caused the violation of Japanese-Americans’ rights. This panel discussion really got me thinking about why I, as a Jew and a Republican political activist, wouldn’t support a ban on Muslims or a registry of American Muslims.
Before I go further, I want to recognize that I understand that President Trump’s recent executive order wasn’t actually a Muslim ban.
I have heard the defenses of his action, and do acknowledge that, while it gives preferences to people based on religion, it isn’t an all-out Muslim ban. But it was a Trump campaign promise nonetheless, so I’m writing this article as both a reaction to his recent order and as a warning for what might come next.
So here are the reasons I’m opposed to banning or registering Muslims:
1) Religious liberty is too important
The First Amendment, indeed the very first sentence in the Bill of Rights, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Framers of our Constitution did not remotely figure that presidents would be usurping Congress with all these executive orders, so I strongly believe that we must apply this constitutional provision to executive actions as well. If we register people based solely on their religion, bar them from entering the country, or deport them, we are acting against the free exercise of religion.
Our nation’s first executive, George Washington, wrote this in 1790, in a letter to a Jewish congregation in Newport, RI:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.
Washington was attempting to comfort the Jewish community, saying that any religious persecution would not be tolerated. Countless waves of Jewish immigrants, Catholic immigrants, Buddhist immigrants, Hindu immigrants, and so many more have come to this nation to flee the religious discrimination in their homelands. Why should Muslims not receive the same safe harbor?
Religious persecution by nature starts by determining who belongs to a certain religion. Are we going to ban only Muslims who have both of their parents of that faith? What about one parent? What about those born Muslim but who don’t practice anymore? This ridiculous train of thought seems more Nazi than American, right?
Finally, Republicans are supposed to be the ones standing up for religious liberty. What happened to the party that defended pastors’ right to decide how to govern their own religion? What happened to the concern over the war on Christmas? Just because you may not like the religion in question doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be sticking up for their rights, too.
Remember the statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
2) It probably won’t do any good
Christian Caryl wrote for Foreign Policy: “The war on jihadi terrorists, like the Cold War, isn’t just about guns and bombs. It’s also a war of hearts and minds.”
ISIS inspires people regardless of race, nationality, or religion. It inspires people by giving them something major to accomplish, and by meeting their (especially males’) primal desire for violence.
NBC News published a partial list of Americans who have traveled to the Middle East to enlist with ISIS. Here are a couple of those people:
Alberto Renteria, who is of Mexican descent, grew up in Gilroy, California, where he attended two local high schools before getting a computer job in San Jose.
Douglas McCain was born in Illinois and raised in Minnesota, where his high school classmates described him as a “goofball” who loved basketball and aspired to a career as a rapper.
And CNN identified some Americans who were caught trying to join ISIS: “Michael Todd Wolfe, Shannon Maureen Conley, Christopher Cornell, Adam Dandach, Donald Ray Morgan …”. CNN also reported, “Some 100 other Americans are believed to have either fought in Syria since 2011 or been arrested before they could get there.”
A Muslim ban or registry would also serve to galvanize the Islamic world against us. Contrary to the hysteria, most of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are peaceful. While I am not suggesting that a Muslim ban would suddenly mean over a billion people attacking us, I do think it will force the hands of some of the people who were previously considering conducting acts of violence. In the aforementioned Foreign Policy article, Caryl also wrote:
What few Americans appreciate is that the jihadists aren’t only trying to kill us — they’re waging war on other Muslims, those who reject their views. And Washington’s biggest partners in this struggle aren’t the Europeans, it’s the people and governments of Muslim states who are fighting for their own lives against the extremists. This civil war within Islam offers us natural allies in our fight against the terrorists.
So just imagine what a gift we’ll be making to the Islamic State’s propaganda arm the day President Trump announces his ban. ‘They ask you to fight and die against us for their sake,’ the terrorists will say. ‘But you’re not good enough to enter their country. They claim they’re not fighting a war against Islam. But they reject anyone who’s a Muslim. Do you really want to help these people?’
There are also far more killings committed by radical white people in our country than by Islamic terrorists. The Washington Times indicates: “Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, nearly twice as many people have been killed in the United States by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than by Muslim jihadis.” So if we’re going to do unconstitutional things like ban an ideology, why not ban the alt-right and white supremacist groups?
And, by the way, if you’re wondering about the efficacy of Trump’s recent executive order, the Cato Institute points out that, between 1975-2015, none of the deaths on U.S. soil that were the result of foreign terrorists were perpetrated by people from the seven nations that the executive order bans.
3) It sets a horrible precedent
Remember when conservative groups feared being targeted by the Obama administration? Remember when then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano published a report likening mainstream right-wing groups to terrorists? Throughout the first few years of Obama’s presidency, you couldn’t go to a Republican event or meeting without hearing someone say that they were scared of government backlash towards them. And then, of course, the IRS targeted Tea Party groups. The government tried to make us suffer because of our ideologies. Shouldn’t we be against listing people based on their political or religious expression?
Registering people, based on their expression of their civil rights, is something that can be used against us too. Last year, we right-wingers were very concerned that President Obama was preparing a national registry of gun owners. The state of Hawaii had already started a statewide registry of every firearm possessor and was attempting to bestow the list on the FBI. John Lott, one of the leading opponents of gun control, said of this effort: “registration can eventually lead to the confiscation of guns.” In other words, registration can be used to take away our rights.
What would make us think that, if President Trump is allowed to register people of a certain faith or ban them, this legal precedent won’t be used against us one day? The next time a Democrat sits in the White House, won’t they make the argument that it isn’t a violation of our Second Amendment rights to register all gun owners, or that it isn’t a violation of our First Amendment rights to register all supporters of conservative causes? Why not ban all Christians? After all, so many religious Christians lean conservative. If this isn’t starting to scare you, I don’t know what will.
4) We shouldn’t succumb to Franklin Roosevelt’s level
Republicans are the ideological posterity of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Republican Party is the party that ended slavery and fought for the civil rights movement. The Democrat Party is the party of Jefferson Davis, Franklin Roosevelt, George Wallace, and Robert Byrd.
In his 1989 farewell address, President Ronald Reagan said this about his “Shining city upon a hill” metaphor: “If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” And in 2002, President George W. Bush said, “America treasures the relationship we have with our many Muslim friends, and we respect the vibrant faith of Islam which inspires countless individuals to lead lives of honesty, integrity, and morality.” This should be our Republican Party. This is the Republican Party that honors our devotion to freedom, individual responsibility, limited government, and our Founders’ intent.
Let’s take a look at a Democrat’s example. Between 1942 and 1946, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration interned over 100,000 Japanese Americans. In fact, a little over a week from now (February 19), we will hit the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. According to History.com, this executive order authorized “the removal of any or all people from military areas ‘as deemed necessary or desirable.’ The military in turn defined the entire West Coast, home to the majority of Americans of Japanese ancestry or citizenship, as a military area.” These human beings were removed from their homes and communities, were assumed to be traitors or spies, and were put in makeshift prison camps. Some 62 percent of those interned were actually U.S. citizens.
Nobody can dispute that there was a real urgency for defending our nation at that time. He signed the order about two months after the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor, which had been the first major attack on U.S. soil in many decades. But the internment decision was not based in sound intelligence or military strategy. In 1981, the Presidential Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians said: “The broad historical causes which shaped [the decisions to relocate and detain Japanese Americans] were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” And President Reagan stated this, in his remarks delivered upon signing the Civil Liberties Act: “This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race.” Reagan also called the Japanese detention a “mistake,” and the act that he signed gave reparations to survivors of the internment.
Franklin Roosevelt’s prejudiced attitudes didn’t stop with the Japanese. Before the “final solution,” Adolf Hitler said he was willing to let the Jewish people leave Nazi Germany before attempting to “eradicate” them. In 1938, Hitler said:
I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.
One of these refugee ships (though definitely not a luxury liner) was the St. Louis. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum describes the ship: “On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich.” Originally bound from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, the refugees tried to enter the U.S. in Miami, Florida, after the Cubans turned them away. They were turned away from Miami too, even after cabling pleas for refuge to the Roosevelt White House. The Smithsonian Magazine writes: “Government officials from the State Department to the FBI to President Franklin Roosevelt himself argued that refugees posed a serious threat to national security.” Roosevelt also refused to bomb the train tracks leading to Auschwitz, a move that would have saved countless Jewish lives and probably have helped with the war effort too.
Let us strive to be like the Republican Party that Reagan dreamed of, rather than the Democrat reality FDR imposed on us. Let us not allow our national fears to be our guides. Let us continue to stand up for freedom-lovers from all over the world, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
In conclusion, I, as a Jewish Republican, stand against a Muslim ban or registry. It would be unconstitutional and would set a dangerous precedent against religious and political expression. It probably wouldn’t prevent further attacks, and might actually inspire more. It could model a pathway for future Democrat leaders to harm Republicans or their causes. And it would mean that the GOP has sacrificed its principles for fear driven expediency. We should not be guided by blind-devotion to anyone with an “R” after their name, even the president. Now is the time to make it clear that, if this recent executive order is a test of our will, we shall not yield. And now is the time to highlight our discomfort with President Trump’s anti-Islam campaign promises, and declare that they will not stand in our party.