‘Make America McCarthyistic Again’

‘Make America McCarthyistic Again’

Donald Trump, the American businessman turned presidential hopeful, threw out another provocation the other day. He argued there must be a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He, in other words, advanced a religion-based exclusion to normally one of freest countries in the world. 

This is not the first time Mr. Trump has expressed his uneasiness with Islam and Muslims. Last month, he called for particular mosques in the United States to be shut down. He also suggested all Muslim Americans “register in a database.” He even attacked President Barack Obama for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and suggested the reason might be “there is something wrong with him that we don’t know about.” (Maybe Obama himself is a Muslim, in other words.)

Here in Turkey, six thousand miles away, all this rhetoric sounds quite crazy. Yet apparently, to millions of Americans, it does not. Trump is the frontrunner in the campaign to become the presidential candidate of the Republican Party. He has millions of fans who hope to see him as the next U.S. president.

Meanwhile, his biggest rival, Ben Carson, also seems to have chosen Muslims as a punching bag in his campaign. He argued last month, despite all the American values about religious freedom, that a Muslim should only be president if he or she “renounces the tenets of Islam.”

Such poisonous voices coming from within the Republican Party makes me, like journalist Mehdi Hassan ironically put in a recent New York Times piece, long for the days of George W. Bush. Despite being the president hit by 9/11, and besides his hawkish bravado on Iraq, Bush was a sensible politician when it came to speaking about Islam. He had called on his nation to see Islam as a “religion of peace” and made a clear distinction between al-Qaeda and the overwhelming majority of Muslims who had nothing to do with it. 

Nobody could blame Bush for being unpatriotic, or being “soft” on terrorism, or being a closeted Muslim. And that is something that Republican Party members should recall today and think a bit more level-headed about what they are hearing from Trump or Carson. 

Let me tell them, and you, what I think: What Trump, whose motto reads “Make America Great Again,” calls for is not a bolder policy of national security, or a more powerful vision of foreign policy. It is rather a new wave of McCarthyism - something America was supposed to have left behind in the 1950’s. Then the threat was soviet communism, which was no joke. But the fear-mongering Senator Joseph McCarthy carried at home was nothing that could help overcome this threat. It was just a nightmare for America, and an assault on its founding principles of liberty and justice.

The same is true for today: Radical jihadism is a real threat - not just to America, but to all of us, including Muslims. But a new form of McCarthyism is not going to help. It will lead to human rights violations on the one hand and make the threat only worse, for radical jihadism feeds best on nothing other than Muslim alienation.

At a time when the far-right is rising in Europe, in particular France, Americans really should not bow down to the same wave of paranoia and over-reaction, because if they do, not just them, but the whole world will be in a much deeper trouble.