The politics of fear rule the day in the U.S. presidential debate. No innovation, from time immemorial fear-mongering has proven effective in winning elections. And fear-mongering has always resulted in oppression built on distorting the truth about a particular population.
In recent centuries, apartheid in South Africa, the holocaust in Germany, and slavery in the U.S., to name but a few, have all depended upon fear-mongering. And to stir up fear in each case, the truth about the affected population must be distorted. It’s an old trick, and too often successful.
History repeats itself, and those of us in the U.S. now find ourselves in a frenzy of fear over Muslims. Donald Trump calls for the U.S. to close its doors to all Muslims. When asked about his plan to ban non-American Muslims from entering, he responded, “They’re not coming to this country. And if I’m president and if Obama has brought some to this country, they are leaving. They’re going. They’re gone.” Presidential candidate Ben Carson believes Islam to be inconsistent with the U.S. constitution and stated “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Into this fear-frenzy entered a courageous voice of truth last week. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) devoted a substantial portion of his air time in the second-string Republican Presidential debate to calling out the lies.
First, Sen. Graham pointed out how Trump’s approach decreases safety for Americans, rather than increasing it:
[W]hat [Donald Trump] said about banning Muslims coming here to America has made us all less safe, and it’s the worst possible thing he could do in this war.
The good news is . . . most people over there are not buying what ISIL’s selling. This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do. Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets if they believed in dancing. This is a coup for them.”
Second, Graham apologized to Muslims around the world, expressing solidarity rather than judging all Muslims for the actions of ISIL extremists. He then recognized American Muslims in the military: “There are at least 3,500 American Muslims serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your service. You are not the enemy. Your religion is not the enemy.”
Sen. Graham realizes that the security of the U.S., and of the world at large, will not be attained by distancing ourselves from a whole population but rather by joining with those who oppose radical violence. The fear-mongering that persuades us to turn our backs on entire religious groups not only harms those groups but prevents us from recognizing allies who could help us work for peace. Voices like that of Sen. Graham remind us that a better path exists. May we listen to those discerning voices that lead us, like a light in the dark, beyond the voices of fear.