Donald Trump's divisive campaign trail rhetoric can no longer be attributed to the anomalies of the Republican primaries - a system that encourages the rise and fall of whichever candidate makes the most outlandish statement that week. Rather, Trump is carving a large swath of hate that threatens to sweep everyone up in its wake, in both the short term and the long term.
It is notable that Trump has also been the most vocal proponent of embracing torture, while simultaneously ratcheting up his rhetoric against Muslims. His fight is mostly not against Islam the faith, it's against Muslims as people. That's who gets tortured. People. By proposing that we close off our borders to all Muslims, Trump implies that all Muslims are bad people who do bad things and that we need to protect ourselves against them - by any means available.
While it is good to see Governor Jeb Bush, Speaker Paul Ryan, and the Republican establishment pushing back on Trump's over the top bigotry, they should consider whether they themselves have helped create an environment where bigotry is accepted. By defending torture or advocating against resettling refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS and Assad, they give aid and the cloak of justifiability to those who directly attack Muslims. Further, as a former ISIS hostage from France recently claimed, the attack on Muslims in the U.S. plays right into the hand of ISIS, the very terrorists we fear, and a group that is as much the enemy of Islam as anything Trump could dream up.
It is incumbent on the rest of the GOP field who are appalled at Trump's anti-Muslim bigotry to see this connection and not try to have it both ways. What is sorely needed is for them to truly distinguish themselves from this dangerous path. The next time a question comes on torture in a debate or press conference, prospective GOP nominees should note that torture is not only illegal, but it violates American values and is unnecessary for our security. And that no human being, Muslim or Christian or other, should be singled out for torture, for any reason.
Russell Moore, from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, has weighed in on Trump's rhetoric, arguing against bigotry directed at individuals or groups based on religion, noting that "A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians." Moore understands that there is a slippery slope whenever religious bigotry is at play.
No matter who gets the nomination, Trump's rise will have lasting implications beyond the primaries. Since torture is illegal, he is essentially calling for civil disorder when he calls for torture. Using a religious test for entrance into the United States is similarly illegal, if not unconstitutional. By so openly stating his case on bigotry, he threatens not only the basis of our democracy but the day to day functionality of the rule of law. Any embrace of a failed torture program, and the religious and cultural bigotry that fuels it, does serious damage to the ability for the U.S. to place itself on a stronger footing with our allies in Western Europe, which, like us now, have repudiated torture in interrogations. It weakens our ability to make a credible case against human rights abusers and torturers, like ISIS, in the Middle East. Re-stoking the bigotry that fuels the fires of torture is a bad idea no matter how you look at it.
We need not look far to see how the Islamophobia feeding Trump's rise has spread throughout our political system. In November, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to essentially ban refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the country. This in the face of solid evidence of torture by both ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria, stretching back to the Arab spring uprisings, well documented and reported by the BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and most notably, Human Rights Watch. A 2013 Human Rights Watch inspection of Syrian state security and military cells in a prison overtaken by the opposition uncovered rudimentary torture devices, as well as a list of all graduates of Raqqa college. And we are all too familiar with what ISIS is doing inside Syria.
The full story of why people, again, mostly Muslims, are fleeing Syria is intimately connected to the threat that anyone can be tortured or killed at any time for any reason. Yet this seems not to matter to too many members of our political establishment. It's as if compassion can't be afforded, yet compassion is the only response for a nation that purports to be a global leader. Given the horrific context of death and torture that lurks behind each and every Syrian refugee, it is unimaginable, and a stain on the conscience and global reputation of this nation, that instead of welcoming these refugees to a safe haven with open arms, some of our political leaders are invoking a false notion of security to slam the door on them.
In the end, the only values that will make us safe in the world are the values of hope and possibility that embrace humanity and take a clear stand against torture and bigotry. There is no room for hatred of others, for any reason, nor the consequent damage this bigotry can do.