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Obama, Trump clash over anti-Muslim rhetoric

President Barack Obama lit into presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and other conservatives over their escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, telling them in his angriest remarks on the issue yet “that’s not the America we want”.

world Updated: Jun 15, 2016 23:01 IST
Yashwant Raj
On Monday, Donal Trump said President Barack Obama ‘‘doesn’t have a lot of anger at what happened to these wonderful people (the victims of Orlando shooting)”.
On Monday, Donal Trump said President Barack Obama ‘‘doesn’t have a lot of anger at what happened to these wonderful people (the victims of Orlando shooting)”.(AFP Photo)

President Barack Obama lit into presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and other conservatives over their escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, telling them in his angriest remarks on the issue yet “that’s not the America we want”.

“We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America,” Obama said after a meeting of his national security council on Tuesday. He added: “We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence.”

Trump, who has suggested a temporary ban on immigration from areas of the world with a “proven history” of terrorism against the US and its allies after the Orlando shootings, hit back at the President, saying Obama was more angry with him than the shooter and implying, as he has before, the President was not as committed to fighting terrorism.

On Monday, Trump had said the President ‘‘doesn’t have a lot of anger at what happened to these wonderful people (the victims of Orlando shooting)”.

Trump and others in his party have also questioned Obama’s counter-terrorism efforts, saying he won’t even use the phrase “radical Islam” to describe the threat. Obama hit back, barely concealing his annoyance: “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”

And he went beyond, “We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence.”

“Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer -- they were all US citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign.”

Malik Mujahid, a Chicago area imam, said Trump is using a general sense of fear and insecurity stemming from the San Bernardino attacks last December and the Orlando shootings to stoke Islamophobia in the hope of rallying his supporters. 

But the Republican nominee, Mujahid argued, may have overplayed his hand. The imam said these attacks on the community have strengthened its resolve to fight back — “it has encouraged Muslim voters to become more active …and the response to Islamophobia is getting organised”.

Trump, who first called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US in the aftermath of the San Bernardino attacks, has ratcheted up the rhetoric since the Orlando shootings. After extending his call of suspending entry to Muslims for areas with “proven history”, he went on to hold the entire community responsible for these incidents. “Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad,” he said on Monday, “and they do know where they are.”

That’s politics. “Predictably, politicians with Islamophobic leanings are seeing the Orlando shootings and the deeper malaise it represents, as an opportunity to further advance a divisive and inflammatory rhetoric that does nothing to make us safer,” said Musaddique Thange, California-based communications director of the Indian American Muslim Council.

“President Obama got it right in his statement yesterday, that the politicisation of terror, and the demonisation of Islam and Muslims only furthers the agenda of the terrorists,” he added.

Explaining why he doesn't use the phrase “radical Islam” despite repeated criticism — he called it “yapping” — Obama said in his remarks on Tuesday he doesn’t want to do the “terrorists’s work” by turning this into a fight between Islam and America or Islam against the West.