In the aftermath of the ISIS-claimed attack in Nice, France, that killed more than 80 people and wounded over 200 more, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proposed a solution: “We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.” By Sharia, Gingrich is apparently referring to a diverse body of Islamic prescriptions that cover personal, group and state behavior which vary according to region and scholar.
As The Atlantic noted the morning after his statement, “Sharia” doesn’t mean what Gingrich thinks it means. But if Gingrich wants to explore what it would mean for the United States to enact such a policy, it’s a worthy thought experiment to perform, since the former Speaker of the House has been promised a spot in a potential Trump administration.
First, we’d need to determine who is to handle such a feat. Presumably, this would be a matter for the Department of Homeland Security; deporting as many as 3.3 million peaceful American Muslims would be tough, but they could handle it with enough firepower.
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But then who designs the test? According to Gingrich, Sharia is incompatible with “Western civilization,” so presumably the test would need questions about both Sharia and Western philosophy. But Sharia is complex, so one would need to recruit experts to make sure the test contained the necessary questions. One might ask, though, “What if these scholars were of ‘a Muslim background’?” What test do they take, before they’re permitted to help the US combat terrorism? Otherwise, one could rely on discredited hatemongers like Robert Spencer, who draws sweeping and dangerous conclusions about Islam, despite no academic training.
His questions might be wrong, but who cares? The goal is to remove them anyway.
But the test won’t be enough. Remember, the goal here is to root out potential ISIS operatives. If a person can be so evil as to behead Americans or slaughter 49 people, presumably that person can also lie on a 15-question multiple-choice exam being administered to over 3 million Muslims en masse. Luckily, the Republican party still favors legislation such as the Patriot Act, which opened the door for mass surveillance and the violation of rights of Muslim and Arab Americans.
Moreover, Donald Trump has openly advocated for the surveillance of mosques and a Muslim registry. Perhaps one could justify passing forward the names of Muslims who “barely” pass, or suspiciously pass with flying colors. We could also foster a Nazi Germany-esque policy of “denunciation,” compelling or encouraging non-Muslims to give up Muslim neighbors. If the game is safety, and we’re already waiving the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans, why not make sure we covered all of our bases?
Gingrich might ask, though, “What about the children?” After all, what if a child’s parents are both designated for deportation? Perhaps it makes sense to deport them, too, or subject them to some measure of conversion therapy like the GOP has advocated for gay and transgender children.
But there is one major problem, which may require some governmental creativity: To where, exactly, are Muslim Americans to be deported? Do we send them all to one spot, perhaps to a rural area in Egypt or Iran? Or does each go back to where their ancestors came from? Do we drop a third-generation Syrian-American into one of the worst humanitarian crises of the modern day? What if she doesn’t know the native dialects? What if a person is of Navajo descent, and converted? Would he be sent to New Mexico? Or, Gingrich and Trump could follow the intellectual ancestors of this way of thinking: just intern them within the US in mass camps, like we did to Japanese Americans during World War II. Or we could follow the Auschwitz model and intern them outside our borders so that they don’t revolt and take over.
There is another solution, in lieu of this absurdity sweeping over the GOP: ceasing the dangerous, McCarthyist rhetoric and actually obeying the Constitution you swore to uphold as a member of the United States House of Representatives. Perhaps that will be too much to ask in Trump’s America.