US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comment that Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students and tourists, should be blocked from entering the country has evoked harsh response from all quarters at home and abroad.
Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the November 2016 presidential election, had on Monday called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”.
His proposal followed last week’s deadly shootings in San Bernardino, California, last week by a married couple inspired by Islamic State militants.
His Republican rivals were quick to reject the latest provocation from a candidate who has delivered no shortage of them. “Donald Trump is unhinged,” Jeb Bush had said via Twitter. “His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”
John Kasich, the Ohio governor, slammed Trump’s “outrageous divisiveness,” while a more measured Ted Cruz, senator from Texas, who has always been cautious about upsetting Trump’s supporters, said, “Well, that is not my policy.”
Trump’s plan also drew criticism from the heads of the Republican Party in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three states to vote in next year’s presidential primaries. “It is un-Republican. It is unconstitutional. And it is un-American,” said Jennifer Horn, chairperson of the Republican Party of New Hampshire.
He was pilloried by the US media as well. The front page of the Philadelphia Daily News pictured Trump holding his right hand out as if in a Nazi salute with the headline The New Furor. In TV interviews on Tuesday morning on ABC and CNN, Trump was asked about being compared to Hitler.
‘Push back bigotry’
In what is being seen as a veiled response to Trump’s proposal, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged his countrymen to reject bigotry in all its forms.
“We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview. We betray the efforts of the past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms,” Obama said at the Capitol while marking the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
While Obama did not name Trump in his remarks, analysts said his statement was aimed towards Trump’s comments including his call to ban all Muslims entering the United States.
Trump defended his proposal on Tuesday, comparing his plan to ban Muslims to the US government’s World War Two detainment of Japanese-Americans. He said president Franklin Roosevelt had overseen the internment of more than 110,000 people in US government camps after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Trump told CNN on Wednesday in reply to a question about how the ban would work that there would exceptions in cases such as diplomats and Muslim athletes, and that it might be short-lived.
“Exceptions will be made. We’re not going to say, you can’t come into the country. ... It could go quickly. It’s a subject that has to be discussed,” he said.
Trump reportedly said “I’m doing good for the Muslims... Many Muslim friends of mine are in agreement with me. They say, ‘Donald, you brought something up to the fore that is so brilliant and so fantastic.”
Trump also said his plan had been misrepresented and explained that the immigration ban may not last long. When asked if he is bigoted or Islamophobic, Trump said, “I am the least racist person that you have ever met.”
Former boxing champion Muhammad Ali, one of the best-known US Muslims, also appeared to join the chorus condemning the proposal.
“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali, 72, said in a statement that appeared in a report by NBC News headlined: “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States,” but did not actually name Trump.
The Louisville, Kentucky-born Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion who joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 and later converted to Sunni Islam, also took aim at Islamist extremists.
“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said in the statement. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”
“I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” he said.
Robert Gunnell, a spokesperson for Ali, said later the statement “was not a direct response to Donald Trump. This statement was Muhammad Ali’s belief that Muslims must reject Jihadist extremist views.”
Asked by Reuters why the headline on the statement was later changed to “Statement from Muhammad Ali Calling on all Muslims to Stand Up Against Jihadist Radical Agenda,” Gunnell said in an email it was “not meant toward Trump so we edited the headline.”
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Trump’s recent statements about Muslims, saying Israel “respects all religions” as he faced calls to call off an upcoming visit by the Republican front-runner.
“The state of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens,” the statement said. “At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and threatens the entire world.”
Netanyahu issued his statement late Wednesday, hours after it was announced that Trump will be visiting Israel at the end of the month. He said the meeting with Trump, set for December 28, was scheduled two weeks ago adding that he meets all presidential candidates who visit the country, and the meeting does not represent an endorsement of Trump.
Members of Israel’s opposition condemned the visit.
Israel Radio reported that Arab parliamentarian Issawi Frej of the dovish Meretz party has asked the interior minister not to let Trump in the country.
Earlier Wednesday, nearly 40 lawmakers, or one-third of the Israeli parliament, signed a petition urging Netanyahu to condemn Trump’s “racist” comments and asking him for him to cancel the meeting unless Trump retracts them.
Nearly one-fifth of Israel’s population is Muslim.
In China, home to about 20 million Muslims, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said she could not comment on internal US matters but said China believed “the international community should make a concerted effort to fight terrorism, and at the same time we have always opposed linking terrorism to any specific ethnic group or religion.”
In the Middle East, sales of “Trump Home” products took a hit. The Landmark Group, one of the region’s biggest retail companies with 190 stores in the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, said it was pulling all Trump merchandise off its shelves. The company did not give any details on the value of the contract.
Although there were no other immediate announcements of business partners breaking with Trump, others made clear they were uneasy using his brand name in the Middle East, where he has been actively expanding his footprint in recent years, heavily concentrated in the Gulf business hub of Dubai.
And an online petition in the United Kingdom has called for a ban on him from entering the country. It has so far garnered more than 3,60,000 signatures British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday had slammed it as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”
Some supporters rallied to his defence. Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, posted on Facebook that Trump was echoing his own longheld belief that Muslim immigration should be stopped until “we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over.” The post had nearly 75,000 likes on Facebook. (http://on.fb.me/1OS3iQE)
Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said he disagreed with the proposed ban but voiced support for Trump, saying the proposal was meant to gain political mileage.
“I don’t think he means it. He has many Muslim friends. He has investments in Muslim countries. And at the same time he has only put this out of context just to gain some more votes,” he said.
Trump’s campaign has been marked by a pattern of inflammatory statements, dating back to his harsh rhetoric about Mexican immigrants. He has taken a particularly hard line against Muslims in the days since the Paris attacks, advocating enhanced surveillance of mosques over fears of radicalization.
Since the November 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more, a number of Republican presidential contenders have proposed restrictions on Syrian refugees — with several suggesting preference for Christians seeking asylum — and tighter surveillance in the US
But Trump’s proposed ban goes much further.
However, despite his controversial rhetoric, Trump has maintained his popularity among many Republican voters, with less than two months to go before the first 2016 primary contests.
Many Republicans worry that his rise will damage the party’s chances of winning the White House in November as Hillary Rodham Clinton consolidates her own front-runner status on the Democratic side.
(With PTI, AP and Reuters inputs)