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Scholar Arun Kundnani says Trump’s new anti-Muslim proposals are mainstreaming the marginal far-right Islamophobes

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: In a speech delivered in the vital swing state of Ohio on Monday, Donald Trump said that in implementing his call for a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating to the country he would institute “extreme vetting,” and develop a new screening test to try to catch people who intend to do harm to the United States. DONALD TRUMP: In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today. I call it extreme vetting. I call it extreme, extreme vetting. Our country has enough problems. We don’t need more. And these are problems like we’ve never had before. NOOR: As President, Trump said he would ask the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security to identify regions of the world that remain hostile to the U.S. and where screening might not be sufficient to catch those who pose a threat. TRUMP: That is why one of my first actions as president will be to establish a commission on radical Islam which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges, and erase divisions. The goal of the commission will be to identify and explain to the American public the core convictions and beliefs of radical Islam, to identify the warning signs of radicalization, and to expose the networks in our society that support radicalization. This commission will be used to develop new protocols for local police offices, federal investigators, and immigration screeners. NOOR: Well, now joining us to discuss this is Arun Kundanani. He writes about race, Islamophobia, political violence, and surveillance. His latest book, The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. Thanks so much for joining us. ARUN KUNDNANI: Thanks for having me. NOOR: So how do you respond to these new proposals that Trump has, Trump highlighted yesterday? He wants this commission to determine what Muslims can enter the country, and he wants to do sort of an ideological litmus test on people that are coming in. KUNDNANI: Yeah. So the first thing is, you know, this is an attempt to get us into a new Cold War, but this time with Islam replacing communism. I mean, that’s the basic underlying idea, here. And whatever you think of the old test that there used to be, which asked have you ever been a member of the Communist Party, the idea now is that that would be replaced with some kind of questioning around do you believe in Sharia law, or something like that. And so we’re kind of getting invited to go back into that kind of mode. The–the problem, I think, in thinking about this is so much of what Trump is talking about is already in place. Right? I mean, we really have, what Trump is calling extreme vetting, we already have that. What Trump is doing is really making much more explicit and overt his rhetoric what is actually already by and large there in policy terms. I mean, talking about spotting the warning signs of radicalization, I mean, since 9/11 every law enforcement agency, immigration authorities, and so forth have been given training and so forth. In a very bogus–I mean, there is very little substance to these methodologies for spotting radicalization. But nevertheless they’re out there. They’ve been implemented for years. NOOR: And so, you know, he’s trying to start, as you said, a new Cold War. And he’s really hearkening on the period of McCarthyism. And so, you know, for many people that understand or are aware of that time, it’s one of the most shameful periods in our history. Of the 20th century, at least. But he is kind of hearkening–you know, he’s kind of saying, like, let’s make America great again. Let’s go back to this period where we were, you know, on guard, essentially. Talk a little bit about that. He’s saying this without much comment or reflection. KUNDNANI: Sure. You know, I think we already, for at least a decade now, we’ve already been in an era of a new McCarthyism. You know, after 9/11 we deported hundreds of thousands of people simply because they’re Muslim. We already put every mosque in the United States under surveillance simply for being a mosque. That atmosphere is already there. Don’t forget, when we talk about McCarthyism, McCarthy was–as far as the establishment were concerned, McCarthy was the guy who went too far and discredited much longer-term practices that were in place throughout the Cold War, not just in that particular short period in the 1950s. And in a way Trump, I think, is probably seen by the security establishment in a similar way. The objection from them to Trump would be, why are you actually putting out there in such an overt way what we’re doing already? Let’s just do it quietly. NOOR: And so, you know, this is–his rhetoric is having real consequences throughout the country. Just yesterday mourners gathered in New York City outside of the al-Furqan Jame Mosque at the funeral of a Muslim imam and his associate who were gunned down over the weekend. There was an arrest in that case, but many people in the Bangladeshi community in Queens believe that this was a hate crime, and it was fueled by Donald Trump’s rhetoric. KUNDNANI: Well, I think that’s right. And I think the, you know, what we’ve seen over the last few years is a new kind of Islamophobia. It’s something that begins, really, with President Obama coming to the White House. And at that point, a kind of very conspiratorial way of thinking starts to emerge from Islamophobic networks in the kind of conservative sections of the internet, and so forth. And that conspiracy theory is, essentially, Muslims are already running the United States. It’s that kind of conspiracy theory, that Muslim Brotherhood has taken over the State Department, President Obama is secretly a Muslim working for the Muslim Brotherhood. We are on the edge of losing the United States to Sharia government. That kind of idea, right? Now, that was, until Trump, that was a very marginal fringe phenomenon amongst certain conservative networks. Trump has mainstreamed it. Trump’s advisers are the idealogues for that conspiracy theory. People like Frank Gaffney, who’s the kind of major influence on Trump’s speech yesterday. So what Trump is doing is mainstreaming something that has been a far-right fringe conspiracy theory with Islamophobia at its core. And again, if we’re thinking about historical parallels, for me, the historical parallel here is with the old anti-semitic conspiracy theories that you would have seen gradually becoming mainstream 100 years ago that blamed Jews for all the problems in the world, that had this idea that Jews were secretly controlling the world. Well, today, it’s the same thing but with Muslims. Muslims are secretly controlling the world. We have a Muslim, supposedly, in the White House, and so forth. And that doesn’t mean that where we’re heading is necessarily exactly the same as the fate of Jews in the mid-20th century in Europe. But what we’re dealing with has the same kind of structure. It’s this kind of racist conspiratorial thinking. NOOR: And Arun, so as Trump, I guess, gets more desperate in his rhetoric–you know, he’s not doing well in the polls. What are your thoughts going forward as we kind of get closer to the election? Final thoughts about the, the significance of this speech and these proposals. KUNDNANI: Yeah. I mean, I think whatever, whoever’s in the White House in January, what Trump’s campaign has demonstrated is that there is a very significant number of people in the United States who, rather than being turned off by this kind of rhetoric, have actually rushed towards it. Until very recently, this Islamophobic component of Trump’s campaign has won him votes, not lost him votes. So whoever’s in the White House in January will know that, yeah, maybe 50 percent of the population of the United States, according to opinion polls, thinks that Muslims are dangerous, is suspicious of them, and buys into a good deal of the Islamophobic rhetoric that we’re seeing from Trump. And that will shape policymaking going forward. That will shape the climate in this country going forward. And even if Trump is defeated. And you know, there’s reasons why with Clinton in the White House we can also expect a kind of increase in military action in the Middle East, which again will have consequences in terms of an Islamophobic atmosphere here feeding into that in a different way from what Trump would bring. So I think either way, unfortunately, next year or so we are looking at a very dangerous atmosphere in the United States with regard to Islamophobia. I think we need a lot more activism, a lot more engagement across all communities on this issue to really change minds and to challenge some of the policies and kind of official patterns of policymaking that are behind a lot of this. NOOR: All right. I want to thank you so much for joining us. KUNDNANI: Thank you very much for having me. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.


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Arun Kundnani writes about race, Islamophobia, political violence, and surveillance. His latest book The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror.