Politifact recently did a “deep dive” asking whether Donald Trump really meant it when he called for a registry of Muslims? Did he intend to include all Muslims or just some? Was it supposed to only apply to Syrian refugees? Or was it, as Trump himself explained, a casual slip?
Their deep dive showed that Trump has truly obfuscated on this question. When pushed on MSNBC, Fox and other media about what he meant with his initial comment about a registry, he diverted to refugees though at the same time not ruling out every Muslim in the US. Politifact concluded that he intended to look at registering refugees first and then maybe expand the scheme.
NPR has reported that a registry wouldn’t be unprecedented. In fact, after 9/11 the Bush administration created a registry vetting people from terror-prone countries. This was called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Twenty five countries, mainly majority Muslim, were covered by the registry. All those coming in to the US on a short-term visa were to be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.
83,000 people were impacted with about 13,000 removed for various violations. In terms of catching people of interest as potential terrorists, the number was a somewhat more paltry eleven. At a cost of $10m a year, the decision was eventually made that a more forensic targeting approach would be better than blanket surveillance of everybody from a particular country.
It looks like then, as Vox reported recently, that Trump will be reviving NSEERS. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was involved with NSEERS and has indicated that this is the program that will be brought back as opposed to a new full-blown Muslim database. However, it remains to be seen if this will be good enough for his boss.
On October 27, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center published what it claimed was a “field guide” to the fifteen “most dangerous anti-Muslim extremists”. A post on the SPLC website website explained:
Ever since the Al Qaeda massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been under attack. They have been vilified as murderers, accused of conspiring to take over the United States and impose Shariah religious law, described as enemies of women, and subjected to hundreds of violent hate crime attacks.
It went on to allege that a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their “enablers” had been demonising the entire Islamic faith, characterising Muslims as terrorists and determined to undermine the US constitution. The SPLC got together with three other organisations – Media Matters for America, the Center for New Community and ReThink Media – to compile this field guide primarily aimed at journalists.
A stated aim of the guide was to encourage newsrooms not to use these voices as they would spread falsehoods about Islam and encourage hate based violence. The fifteen names included anti-immigrant voices like Ann Corcoran as well as high profile blogger Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, both of whom have attempted to forge links to Europe’s Far Right and have been banned from entering the UK. But more contentiously, the field guide listed Majid Nawaaz, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir member who has campaigned in the UK against the Islamist ideology he once adhered to.
Nawaaz works at the Quilliam Foundation, a group that takes a strong position against both Islamist ideology and the salafi-jihadism of Daesh and Al-Qaeda. Its anti-Islamism and support for the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy has earned Quilliam the ire of Islamist-inclined groups who reacted very favourably to the field guide and bated Nawaaz with his inclusion in the list of anti-Muslim extremists.
The problem with the field guide is that while Geller and Spencer are undeniably hostile to Islam as a faith, Nawaaz is a practising Muslim. He opposes Islamism as a regressive ideology within Islam as opposed to denigrating his own faith. He wants Islam to be reconciled with liberalism and western values, a far cry from the implied allegation that he seeks to provoke hate crime against his fellow Muslims.
So what was the evidence against Nawaaz from the SPLC?
- Nawaaz reportedly claimed: “The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics”. This is an argument about the tactics employed by Islamists but makes no general statement about Muslims as a whole.
- He called for the niqab to be removed in “identity sensitive” areas like airports and banks. Many feminist Muslims would take issue with this intrusion into women’s rights and in light of events in France, where niqab bans have been championed by the Far Right, one hopes Nawaaz would drop this suggestion in future
- He tweeted the infamous Jesus and Mo cartoon, leading to death threats against himself. Here, the SPLC falls into the Islamist trap of defining Islamophobia beyond attacks on Muslims and their property to calling for blasphemy laws, the like of which were scrapped a hundred years ago in Europe and have been viewed as undemocratic and unconstitutional in the United States
- The SPLC mentions his trip to a strip club, reported in April 2015. What relevance this has to being an alleged “anti-Muslim extremist” is anybody’s guess.