Donald Trump and Monitoring Muslims

UPDATE: The topic of this post has taken on added urgency in light of the San Bernardino shootings of Dec. 2. It is ever more important to be vigilant, and to protect religious liberty.

I have made my views of Donald Trump well known – he’s dangerous and inane, and normally does not stick to any one position for long, except perhaps for xenophobia. Since the Paris terrorist attacks, he has been making ominous statements about how we’re going to have to “do things that we never did before” with regard to cracking down on Muslims. Although he has vacillated wildly on what he means, his affirmations have included making Muslims carry special religious IDs, maintaining a database of all Muslims living in the  U.S., closing mosques, and putting mosques under surveillance.

I realize that I am nearly incapable of agreeing with anything Trump says, but I do absolutely agree that we should be putting some mosques, imams, and Muslims under surveillance. In and of itself, this is a reasonable position that could garner support across the political spectrum. The difference is, what precipitates that surveillance? The mere fact that it is a mosque?

No. We must draw a line between Muslims being targeted because they are Muslims, and Muslims being targeted on the basis of reasonable evidence that they are promoting violence and/or jihadist conspiracies. The same standard would apply to people and congregations of all faiths. We would never accept monitoring Christians, Jews, or other religious groups because they are of that religion, and neither should we do that to Muslims.

Muslims do have a particular burden to carry because so many Muslims are engaged in jihadism and terrorism. But most Muslims around the world, and in the U.S., are not violent jihadists. Singling out America’s three million Muslims for surveillance, tracking, or identification requirements would damage the prized assimilation of Muslims into our culture, the very thing that France and other European countries have struggled with so much. Special scrutiny based simply on religion would foster the sense that, whatever their actual behavior, Muslims cannot be trusted. It would signal that the government presumes they are guilty because they are Muslims.

I defer to others who better understand the legal technicalities of when surveillance properly kicks in, but common sense would suggest that when an imam is preaching violence, his mosque should get attention from authorities. We should monitor public conversations on Twitter, YouTube, and other venues for jihadist content.

We should cultivate informants and spies who infiltrate known jihadist networks in America. We should monitor the movements of people traveling overseas into centers of jihadist activity. Any time plausible suspicion connects people residing in the U.S. to evidence of jihadist or terrorist advocacy, surveillance should follow.

But no, Donald Trump. No surveillance, tracking, or special identification of people simply because of their religion.

See also “The Case for Mosque Surveillance,” by Philip Jenkins, a draft of which helped me to write this post.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • kierkegaard71

    You wrote, “Singling out America’s three million Muslims…would damage the prized assimilation of Muslims into our culture, the very thing that France and other European countries have struggled with so much.” Regarding “prized assimilation”, are you saying that Muslims have been assimilated in the US, or that it is just a goal at this point? Why have European countries struggled with assimilation?

  • Mark Byron

    The US has a history of being a nation of immigrants. Europe doesn’t have that tradition, so it is less natural for them to be multicultural.

    Also, American Muslims (I don’t have any hard stats here) tend to be a bit more upscale than European ones; it’s easier to fit into a while-collar milieu than a blue-collar one. They are more assimilated here than in Europe, but it’s far from perfect.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Why limit the surveillance just to some Muslims? How about wild-eyed, unkempt, anti-social lunatics that live in shacks without utilities in the woods but are well-armed? It is a big country, and because it is also a “free” country we have all sorts of people, including people (of all types) who are not only capable of crossing the line but sometimes actually do.

  • RustbeltRick

    ” . . . when an imam is preaching violence, his mosque should get attention from authorities.”

    When a pro-life activist or a radio host or blogger is preaching violence against doctors and clinics, his organization should get attention from authorities. Especially given the events of last weekend.

  • kierkegaard71

    I do not believe that mosques and leaders should be monitored for violent rhetoric. I don’t think the historian is connecting the dots here. We find ourselves in the position of feeling like surveillance is necessary mainly because of our government’s foreign adventurism and creation of enemies abroad. We are searching for “monsters to destroy” and this foolhardy expedition is sowing the seeds of intrusive government at home as its citizenry becomes used to a police state. Most of the political rhetoric in this country carries the assumption that the US has no responsibility for aggravating and inviting violent elements within Islam. Cease the foreign adventurism, kill the ideology that says that the US government has to dictate internal Mid-East politics, and you might take away the recruitment tool for the jihadists. However, I don’t want to get off-point. I realize that the historian’s motive is to solely besmirch Donald Trump, not to discuss surveillance, and for that I congratulate him.