Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday said he has never suggested that law enforcement or immigration officials screen Muslims more than other groups.
“I never said the term ‘Muslim,’” Trump told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who asked whether Trump’s profiling plan could cause all Muslims to be viewed with suspicion. “I’m saying we’re going to profile people that maybe look suspicious, I didn’t say [if] they were Muslims or not.”
Trump has built his presidential campaign on the promise to keep other people out of the U.S. ― be they immigrants from Central and South America, refugees from the war-torn Middle East, or citizens of countries Trump says are “compromised” by “terrorism,” although he won’t actually name those countries. His remarks on Fox News followed bombings in New York and New Jersey over the weekend that left scores of people injured. The suspect, Ahmad Rahami, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who came from Afghanistan as a child with his asylum-seeking father.
Trump promised to expand the use of “profiling,” an illegal tactic in which authorities target certain individuals for suspicion based on their race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. Though he tried to distance himself from illegal profiling, his presidential campaign website still proudly displayed Trump’s longstanding promise to institute “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Pressed by O’Reilly on what it means to “look suspicious,” Trump exclaimed, “I don’t know! These are [profiling] experts, that’s what they do.They profile. You go to Israel, and [U.S. law enforcement] should study [Israel], because Israel’s done a phenomenal job at this. They’re not happy about [having to profile], but they do it. And people aren’t complaining about it. But we have to do it, we have to profile.”
O’Reilly noted that Trump’s plan wasn’t aimed at profiling “guys with leather jackets and blue eyes,” which both men understood to mean that Trump would single out Muslims and people from the Middle East, and not blue-eyed caucasians.
“I’m not using the term Muslim!” Trump insisted.“I’m saying we’re going to have to start profiling. And I don’t know if it’s that bad, but certainly it’s not a wonderful thing. But we have a country to keep safe. And you know, and I know, it’s going to get worse.”
For anyone who’s paid even remote attention to Trump’s campaign over the past year, Trump didn’t have to use the word Muslim. Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has used the terms “Muslim” and “Islam” thousands of times, almost always in order to warn his supporters of the threat posed by the world’s 1.6 billion followers of the religion.
On Monday evening, Trump met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a move intended to make the reality TV star look presidential. Trump’s campaign said the nominee emphasized to Sisi “his high regard for peace-loving Muslims.” Sisi is a career military officer who seized power in a coup, and whose government detains political dissidents indefinitely without trial.
The profiling system Trump has pointed to as a model for the United States is Israel’s system of profiling and screening Arabs, non-Jews, and occupied Palestinians. The United Nations has labeled Israel’s institutional oppression and segregation of the largely Muslim Palestinians an “apartheid.”
“Israel does it, and Israel does it very successfully,” Trump told O’Reilly. “And when they see someone they’d like to talk to, or have a look at, or open up their satchel and see what’s inside, they do it. And they don’t like to do it, but they do it. And we have to do it.”
Trump complained that constitutional protections against police profiling in the United States mean that “you have a woman who’s 87 years old from Sweden, and we have to look at her the same way we’re going to look at somebody else [who looks suspicious]. It’s ridiculous.”