In 1998, Hollywood released the movie The Siege, starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. The plot eerily depicted terror attacks in New York City and a climate of fear, uncertainty and tension that followed. At the heart of the film is what transpires in the process of finding the terrorists: martial law is declared, the borough of Brooklyn is sealed off and young males of Arab/Middle Eastern descent are rounded up and detained. Well, if GOP presidential contenders Ted Cruz and Donald Trump were to have their way, that scary scenario might very well be reality one day soon.
"We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized," read part of a statement released by Cruz following the tragic attacks in Brussels. "The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we are at an end. Our country is at stake."
In other words, let's profile, segregate, search and possibly seize American citizens and immigrants alike who practice a particular faith and live in the same area or hang out in the same neighborhood. Yeah, sounds very aligned with our Constitution.
Donald Trump, no stranger to making disparaging comments about Muslims himself - including calling for a ban on them entering the country - said he would support Cruz's plan to have authorities patrol Muslim neighborhoods. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, he concurred: "I think that's a good idea."
Those kinds of incendiary statements, coupled with the false notion that most Muslims somehow condone terrorism or fail to condemn it, have given rise to a new age of open xenophobia and bigotry that has severe consequences for society in both the short and long term. While calling for patrols of neighborhoods, spying of mosques and bans on entering the country may be good talking points to rile up their base and pursue their own political aspirations, Cruz, Trump and their ilk are creating a toxic environment in the process. And the reality is, their "innovative ideas" don't work.
The infamous Demographics Unit in New York (later termed the Zone Assessment Unit) already targeted Muslim communities and mapped out where they worshipped, ate, hung out and more. Under this intrusive surveillance and through other mechanisms, mosques were spied upon and were designated as 'suspected terrorism enterprises.' Informants infiltrated these houses of worship and other areas, and guess what? All of this profiling and spying never generated a lead - not a single one. The only thing it accomplished was to drive a wedge between Muslim communities and police that were supposed to serve and protect them.
Another false narrative that Cruz, Trump and frankly people from all ends of the spectrum like to often spew is that Muslims somehow don't do enough to root out terrorism, or don't condemn it enough. Again, a nice talking point for those that thrive off of an industry of fearmongering and hate, but the truth couldn't be more glaringly different.
A Duke University study released in 2014 revealed that more terrorism suspects and perpetrators were brought to the attention of law enforcement by the Muslim American community than were found through the government's own investigations. If that's the case, then why would we want to alienate the very people that are doing the most to stop the next act of horror? Why is it that this reality is rarely, if ever, reported? And why are Presidential candidates allowed to make up their own lies, call for patrols of entire communities and nobody checks them on it?
On Tuesday evening, NYPD spokesperson J. Peter Donald tweeted Cruz the following: "Hey, @tedcruz are our nearly 1k Muslim officers a "threat" too? It's hard to imagine a more incendiary, foolish statement". The fact that the Director of Communications for the largest police force in the country made it a point to call out a politician running for the highest office in the land speaks volumes about the dangerous rhetoric loosely thrown about by these individuals and the disturbing climate they have created in the wake of their outrageous, vile and calculated words.
Terrorism is one of the most horrific challenges we must eliminate in order to restore a sense of humanity to our sometimes chaotic world. But to ignore the fact that Muslims are in fact the greatest victims of terrorism is to once again deny reality. As we mourn the loss of innocents in Brussels, we should also give condolences to the victims in Turkey, Nigeria and around the world who also recently died in acts of terrorism. Cruz, Trump and others are so quick to proclaim that "all lives matter"; well then maybe they should start acknowledging the fact that all lives really do matter and victims are victims - regardless of their religious or ethnic background.
In an era where it's perfectly acceptable to openly demonize Muslims, are we surprised that those running for President of the United States are comfortable calling for a scenario pretty similar to that depicted in a Hollywood film nearly 20 years ago? We as a nation cannot succumb to such madness, nor should we allow such garbage language and ideas to pollute our discourse.
Ted Cruz is right, our country is at stake. But it isn't "political correctness" that's the problem; it's self-aggrandizing politicians who will stop at nothing to advance themselves - even if it means throwing a religious minority under the bus.