The anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US keeps getting worse. Now, Donald Trump has called for a complete ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States.
The way Trump sounded an alarm about the danger of Muslims within our midst, blaming immigration, has some parallels with the dramatic electoral success of the extreme right in France.
Trump is taking a lesson from the National Front, an extreme-right party, led by Marine Le Pen.
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This anti-immigration party had a historic victory in the first round of regional elections, leading in six of 13 regions for the first time, on December 6, 2015.
In both countries, the construction of an “Islamic Other” as the enemy manipulates voters’ fears of the terrorist threat.
But we cannot equate the theology of a group of extremists with the beliefs of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. We cannot implement systematic discrimination against a religious group in the US because it would be a betrayal of our own values. We cannot see the persecution of every Muslim as the cure to a cancer that we fear is endless.
A succession of challenges – unemployment, a sluggish economy, the Greek crisis, historic numbers of migrants – has contributed to the rise of the right in France.
But the question of immigration, and the status of Muslims in particular, cannot be understood without considering the colonial legacy and the history of industrialism.
The fact that low birth rates in France during industrial expansion were exacerbated by wars (1870-71, 1914-1918, 1939-44) made recruiting foreign labor necessary.
Now, the largest immigrant populations in France come from Algeria and Morocco, which are predominantly Muslim countries. France is home to the second largest Muslim population in Europe, with 4.7 million Muslims (7.5 percent of the population), with Germany having 4.8 million (5.8 percent of population), according to Pew Research.
The trend is one of upward growth with projections of Muslims making up to 8 percent of Europe’s population by 2030. While the influx of Muslim migrants has created a number of challenges for social integration – including the banning of headscarves in French schools and inequality in upward social mobility – it is remarkable that French people have a much more favorable view of Muslims than we do in the US.
According to the Pew Global Attitude Survey, 72 percent of French people had a favorable view of Muslims in 2014, compared with 64 percent in Britain and 58 percent in Germany.
We do not have a similar history in the US, where Muslims are estimated to be one percent of the population.
In the United States, polling data released before Thanksgiving says that 84 percent of Republicans disapprove of taking in Syrian refugees, compared with 40 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Independents.
It is not politically expedient in France for the leader of the National Front to make openly racist statements, such as comparing Syrian refugees to rabid dogs, as did Ben Carson. There may be a correlation between candidates in Le Pen’s party making racists jokes and offensive statements unofficially on social media and winning elections.
In France, when virulent racism against Black people, Muslims and immigrants gets expressed openly in the public square, it is considered “un dérapage,” or a distasteful lapse. Le Pen’s recent success derives, in part, from modulating her xenophobic rhetoric, which is cloaked in coded language and less anti-Semitic than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
There can be little doubt that terrorists have carried out ideologically motivated attacks. However, we cannot give into fear or the terrorists will have won the most important battle by changing us, by making us intolerant and seeing the world through their lens.
US news organizations must stop equating Muslims with terrorists and suggesting that they congregate in lawless no-go zones. Fox News had to retract the first story on this, but the myth persists and has been repeated by Trump.
Voters must reject politicians who incite racism and xenophobia, not only because it is consistent with our best values, but also because it is necessary to preserve a free and open society.