Rivals condemn Trump’s call to register Muslims
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s support for registering US Muslims in a database drew criticism Friday from rival Republicans and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, amid bursts of controversial rhetoric from GOP candidates. Trump, leading the polls for the Republican nomination, has made several belligerent remarks about Muslims and Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.
Trump was asked by NBC News on Thursday whether he would support creating a database system to track Muslims. “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump told the network at a campaign stop in Iowa.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases.” As to how he would get Muslims registered, he said it could be done at “different places”, not just mosques. “It would be just good management,” he said. Trump was later asked whether there was a difference between requiring Muslims to register today and Jews registering with Germany’s Nazis in the 1930s. “You tell me,” Trump responded.
Clinton slammed Trump’s remarks as “shocking rhetoric”. “It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country,” she wrote on Twitter. Republican candidate Jeb Bush, who has suggested Christian refugees should be prioritized over Muslims, laid into Trump, saying Americans do not have to abandon their values to fight extremism. “You talk about internment, you talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people, and that’s just wrong,” Bush told CNBC Friday. “That’s not strength, that’s weakness.” Ohio Governor John Kasich said forcing someone to register with the government because of their religion “strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history”.
By mid-day Friday, Trump appeared to walk back his remarks, although he stood firm on the need for vigilance in tracking extremists. “I didn’t suggest a database - a reporter did,” Trump tweeted to his five million followers. “We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America.”
In an interview on Fox News Channel Friday evening, Trump tried to clarify his position, saying, “I want a watch list for the Syrian refugees that Obama’s going to let in if we don’t stop him as Republicans”. He said he’d had trouble hearing the NBC reporter’s questions. But he didn’t disavow the idea of a general registry for Muslims living in the country or say decisively he wouldn’t support it. “I want to have watch lists. I want to have surveillance. I mean, we’re not a bunch of babies,” he said.
Ben Carson, a top Republican presidential contender, pushed back against Trump. “If we’re just going to pick out a particular group of people based on their religion, based on their race... that’s setting a dangerous precedent,” he told reporters in New Hampshire. Carson made his own controversial comments after the Paris attacks, including Thursday when he equated the threat of extremists slipping into the country as refugees with the threat of a “rabid dog”.
Senator Ted Cruz, who has been reticent to directly attack Trump on the campaign trail, is opposed to Syrian Muslim refugees reaching US shores. But Cruz said he opposed a Muslim database on the grounds it would infringe on American religious liberty. “I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens,” he said. “What I do think is important is that the federal government be far more vigorous going after radical Islamic terrorists.”
The Republican candidates’ unified criticism of Trump was striking. His rivals have vacillated in their handling of other inflammatory comments from him, wary of alienating his supporters while increasingly concerned that he’s maintained his grip on the GOP race deep into the fall. Civil liberties experts said a database for Muslims would be unconstitutional on several counts, while the libertarian Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro said the idea also violates basic privacy and liberty rights.
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom. “What the First Amendment does and what it should do is drive the government to use neutral criteria,” Hamilton said. “You can use neutral criteria to identify terrorists. What it can’t do is engage in one-religion bashing. That won’t fly in any court.” Meanwhile, the AntiDefamation League in New York called Trump’s proposal “deeply troubling and reminiscent of darker days in American history when others were singled out for scapegoating.” — Agencies