It appears the United States has not learned from its history.
Presidential candidate, GOP front-runner, multi-billionaire, and reality TV star Donald Trump is touting a proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. This comes on the heels of the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings that have been linked to terrorism, and the Paris attacks that killed 130 people and injured scores more.
Trump proposes to ban Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students, tourists, and other visitors, from entering the U.S. In Trumps own words, “We have no choice but to do this. We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have to figure out what’s going on.”
He’s right. We need to figure out what’s going on… in the minds of Americans who would actually support such a notion, including Trump himself.
Many people have gone so far as to compare Trump’s plan to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s World War II policy that oversaw the forcible detainment and confinement of people with Japanese, German, and Italian descent. These people were held in internment camps sprinkled throughout the Western U.S.
Others say the plan echoes that of another World War II leader, who started by systematically branding people of the Jewish faith as enemies of the state. That, ultimately, led to the deaths of six million Jews in concentration camps. It was Adolph Hitler’s so-called “final solution.”
To me, Trump’s plan is closely reminiscent of the Red Scare of the early and mid-20th century. The Red Scare occurred when the government promoted a fear of communism that spread widely through the population. It first happened in 1919-20 when the federal government began rounding up and deporting hundreds of immigrants with radical political views. This initial “scare” was caused by fears of subversion by communists (defined by its historic connection with the color red) in the United States immediately on the heels of the 1917 Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution.
The second round, known as “McCarthyism,” occurred in the late 1940s when U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy stirred up anti-communist ideas known as “The Red Menace.” People were afraid of being associated with communists or labeled as communists themselves. Those who were considered communist sympathizers often found themselves blacklisted, placed on a list that prevented them from getting jobs. The House Un-American Activities Committee – yes, there was such a thing – led by McCarthy, investigated allegations of subversive elements (Soviet spies) in the government and the Hollywood film industry.
People such as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover equated any kind of protest with communist subversion, including civil rights demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr., who was also labeled a communist. Absurd, right?
It was a climate of fear and repression, which is exactly what Trump is promoting. He’s leading the charge by preying on the fears of the American people. It’s a tried-and-true political tactic that has worked in the past.
And it’s working again! Do we not give a double-take to the Middle Eastern man carrying a backpack, or one who wears the traditional keffiyeh (wrapped turban or loosely draped)? Do we not eye the woman wearing an abaya (black cloak) or hijab (headscarf) with a bit more attention?
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in regard to religion, clearly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Throughout our history, people have fled foreign lands to escape various forms of repression – including religious persecution – for the promise and constitutional guarantee that the same won’t happen in the U.S.
We can’t allow the banning of Muslims to occur in the U.S. By doing do, we’re opening a can of worms that will be difficult to close.
A government that is allowed to shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies simply because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the border to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious beliefs can do the same to evangelical Christians, and a government that can issue ID badges for all Muslims because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians.
If you ban one religion, you can ban them all. One always leads to the other.
Michael Johnson is a Civitas Media editor in southern Ohio. He can be reached at 740-446-2342 ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.
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