Lessons to be learned from Trump's rhetoric and the reactions to it

While the statement was abhorrent, the reactions to it are enlightening.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

US presidential candidate Donald Trump has called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on… our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life’.”[1]

This statement expresses extreme islamophobia and stereotyping of all Muslims, instead of identifying the specific hate mongering elements which incite to violence in the American Muslim community and abroad. Trump’s statement has received such widespread justified criticism that no more needs to be added.

What merits a more detailed look however are some of the reactions to Trump’s statement. These are of interest to Israel in view of the extreme anti-Israelism in certain Muslim quarters, both in the US and from hate mongering visitors. Another reason is that Trump’s rhetoric shows once again that often negative remarks can have far more impact than positive ones.

What made Trump’s statement important is that it turned out to represent widespread opinions in the American population. Recent polls show that many Americans have a negative view of Muslims in general. A CBS poll found that 29 % of the electorate have an unfavorable opinion of Islam, while 24% are favorable toward it. The remainder don’t know or haven’t heard enough. 36% of all polled think that the US should temporarily ban foreign Muslims from visiting the United States, and 58% are against such a ban.  However, 54 % of Republicans are in favor of banning the entry of Muslims from other countries, while 38% of them think there should be no ban. Furthermore 44% of all Americans consider that the federal government should keep a database containing the names of all Muslims in the US, while 46% oppose keeping such records.[2]

The findings of a Rasmussen national telephone poll were even more negative about Muslims. Of all polled, 46% were in favor of a temporary ban on Muslims visiting, and 40% against. Among Republican voters 66% were in favor of a ban.[3]

These strong anti-Muslim attitudes have probably developed over a period of almost fifteen years. Their origins may be found in the 9/11 mass murders. Nineteen Al-Qaida affiliated Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens, came to the US to commit mass murders.[4] In the aftermath of 9/11, even those willing to whitewash the most extreme Muslim crimes found little opportunity to do so. In the face of such horror, their traditional false rationales could not stick. The murderers were neither poor, nor alienated in the margins of American society. They were not victims of American society; rather their violent acts led to thousands of American victims of their crimes.

When an infrastructure for negative opinions about a minority group emerges in a society after a massacre on the scale of 9/11, “follow up” murders on a smaller scale perpetrated by individuals from that same group provoke renewed interest in the issue. This was shown after events such as the murders by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009,[5] the Boston marathon killer brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2013[6] and the San Bernardino murderers Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik[7], in December 2015.

One wealthy Arab dignitary also reacted to the Trump statement. The Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal attacked Trump and tweeted: “You are a disgrace not only to the GOP [the Republican Party] but to all America. Withdraw from the US presidential race as you will never win.”[8] The prince’s attacks were a further opportunity for Trump to stoke the fires. He tweeted ‘dopey prince… wants to control our US politicians with daddy’s money…”[9]

After 9/11, Al-Waleed gave a check to then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for the sum of 10 million dollars. Giuliani refused the money following Al-Waleed’s suggestions of “moral equivalence.” Al-Waleed had stated that the US "must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack…” and furthermore, that the US “should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause."[10]

Some perspective on the views held by Muslim visitors to the States from the Middle East can also be garnered from a Pew survey carried out after 9/11. It showed that a majority of Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia and Pakistan did not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs. In Egypt the figure was 75 percent and in Turkey 73%.[11]

Foreign secretary John Kerry accused Trump of endangering the security of the United States.[12] This offers two possible options. If Kerry is right this would imply that a person who is neither an elected official nor a government employee can endanger the security of the United States by means of a short public statement and without disclosing any confidential information. If that is so, freedom of speech is the culprit here, and the First Amendment of the US Constitution should be amended accordingly.

The other possibility is that Kerry is wrong. In that case, Obama should tell him to keep his mouth shut as what he says represents the views of the American Administration.

Trump’s statement was a sharp mirror image of many of President Obama’s reactions about Muslims in general and Muslim-perpetrated crimes in particular.
Trump’s statement was a sharp mirror image of many of President Obama’s reactions about Muslims in general and Muslim-perpetrated crimes in particular. While Trump has taken an extremely negative position with regard to Muslims, Obama has consistently obfuscated or drastically minimized the Islamic Muslim aspect in much criminality carried out by Muslims.

In a speech on September 10, 2014, Obama insisted that the Islamic State Movement is not “Islamic.” He added “No religion condones the killing of innocents.”[13] In an opinion piece published at the beginning of 2015, Obama stated that “Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL promote a twisted interpretation of religion that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world's Muslims. The world must continue to lift up the voices of Muslim clerics and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of Islam….”[14] Obama has avoided the use of expressions such as ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘Islamic extremists, preferring as in this op-ed to describe Islamic State (so-called) militants as “individuals from various religions” who practice “hateful ideologies.”[15]

There is also much to learn from the uproar surrounding Trump’s statements regarding the impact of this kind of rhetoric.  One negative remark by Trump has attracted more public attention than many of Obama’s positive remarks about Islam and his frequent avoidance of any mention of the Islamic aspects of crimes committed by Muslims.

Outside the US, the reactions against Trump were strongest in the United Kingdom. A petition calling for Trump to be banned from entering the UK has reached 556,386 signatures at the time of writing.[16] Yet in 2004 the UK allowed entry to the prominent Muslim cleric and known hate mongerer Yussuf al Qaradawi.[17] At that time he had already been banned from entering the United States. This chief ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood was invited and received by then London mayor Ken Livingstone of the Labour Party.[18] There was little protest against a man who incites to murder, something Trump has not done.

The sooner Trump’s presidential campaign ends the better. Yet Trump’s words are out in the public arena and their impact is here to stay. In a brief, extreme statement he has tabled an opinion which is shared by many tens of millions of Americans.

The even higher statistics showing widespread support for a database on Muslims brings a different and equally valid issue into focus: the need to expose incitement to violence and other crimes, both within elements of American Muslim society, and within the extreme quarters of the Islamic world.

he sizable support in the US for Trump’s radical position on Muslims also means that public attention will be strongly drawn to the attitudes of various Muslim currents both inside and outside the US in all that relates to future terror and extreme hate mongering. This is to be expected in the US, but may well also find expression in other Western countries.


[1] Donald J. Trump, “Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration,” www.donaldjtrump.com, 7 December 2015.

[2] Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton and Fred Backus, “Poll: Solid opposition to ban on Muslims entering US,” CBS News, 11 December 2015.

[3] “Voters Like Trump’s Proposed Muslim Ban,” Rasmussen Reports, 10 December 2015.

[4] “September 11th Hijackers Fast Facts,” CNN, updated 24 August 2015.

[5] Robert D. McFadden, “Army Doctor Held in Ft. Hood Rampage,” The New York Times, 5 November 2009.

[6] Ann O'Neill, Aaron Cooper and Ray Sanchez “Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sentenced to death,” CNN, 17 May 2015.

[7] “What Investigators Know About the San Bernardino Shooting,” The New York Times, 10 December 2015.

[8] Emma Graham-Harrison, “Donald Trump is a disgrace to his country, says billionaire Saudi prince.” Guardian, 12 December 2015.

[9] “Trump's name restored at Dubai golf complex”, Jerusalem Post, 13 December 2015.

[10] “Giuliani rejects $10 million from Saudi prince,” CNN, 12 October 2001.

[11] “Pew Survey: Arabs Not Responsible For 9/11, Say Majority In Muslim Nations,” Huffington Post, 21 July 2011.

[12] Nicki Rossoll, “Sec. John Kerry: Donald Trump’s Comments on Muslims 'Endanger National Security',” ABC News, 13 December 2015.

[13] Michael McGough, “Sorry, Obama, religion has condoned killing innocents,” LA Times, 11 September 2014.

[14] Barack Obama, “President Obama: Our fight against violent extremism,” LA Times, 17 February 2015.

[15] Chris Perez, “Obama defends the ‘true peaceful nature of Islam’,” New York Post, 18 February 2015.

[16] “Block Donald J Trump from UK entry,” Petition.parliament.uk.

[17] “Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Theologian of Terror,” ADL, 15 March 2011.

[18] Vikram Dodd, “Controversial Muslim cleric banned from Britain,” The Guardian, 7 February 2008.

Go to https://www.facebook.com/Manfred-Gerstenfeld-339729406079344/ For updated information on Manfred Gerstenfeld’s published articles, books and interviews in English