After Paris, Republicans ratchet up anti-immigrant rhetoric

The language of Republican candidates shows how far to the right the party has swung

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson compares concerns about Syrian refugees to parental concerns about children getting attacked by a rapid dogs. Video: Reuters

 

Republicans were tripping over themselves this week to ratchet up the anti-refugee rhetoric in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, targeting Syrian migrants and the wider Muslim population with their words.

The ugly nativist tone of the party’s race to pick a presidential nominee was set by Donald Trump and the businessman’s incendiary remarks in June about Mexicans being rapists and criminals. Then he was ridiculed, written off by some as a loon, as a circus act then; now he sits on top in the Republican presidential polls. The campaign has turned a whole lot uglier since then.

If Republicans once knew they had to be more compassionate towards minorities to win back the White House, it has been lost in the strong language many candidates have been using as they lurch to the right to appeal to conservative voters ahead of the first nominating battles of the 2016 election race.

Concerned that Islamic State suicide attackers may target the US next after Paris, Trump has suggested the possible closure of mosques and creating a database of Muslim-Americans or identification cards showing a person’s religious affiliation to prevent terrorism – though he later distanced himself from the ID card proposal.

Trump had jumped on a report on a conservative news website, tweeting that eight Syrians were “caught on the southern border trying to get into the US – Isis maybe? I told you so. We need a big and beautiful wall,” repeating his plans to fence off the Mexican border.

It turned out that the migrants were “two Syrian families, two men, two women and four children” who presented themselves to department of homeland security officials near Laredo in Texas.

Retired surgeon Ben Carson, running second in the polls behind Trump, has gone further, likening Syrian refugees to mad dogs. Another Republican in Texas compared them with rattlesnakes.

“If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighbourhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson told reporters on a campaign stop in Alabama when asked about the Syrian refugees. “It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”

Another presidential hopeful, Ohio governor John Kasich, has said he would create a new government agency to promote “Judeo- Christian Western values” (despite campaigning as a conservative in demanding a smaller government).

The language in the Republican campaign shows how far to the right the party has swung in the past 15 years.

George W Bush, far from being a dove during his “War on Terror”, hesitated to use the term “radical Islam” during his presidency, fearing that it would turn America’s fight into a battle against all Muslims.

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said at the Islamic Centre in Washington just six days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

As the Democratic candidates tussled in a debate last weekend over the politically charged question of whether the fight against Islamic State was a war against radical Islam or violent jihadists, Bush’s brother Jeb tweeted: “Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism.”

Florida senator Marco Rubio, himself the son of Cuban migrants, who some see as the Republican with the best chances of challenging the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for the White House, went so far as to call the conflict between western nations and Islamic State militants as a “clash of civilisations”.

The inflammatory rhetoric has led to parallels being drawn to America’s past treatment of outsiders and foreigners seeking refuge. David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke in Virginia, cited the mass detention of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, one of America’s darkest chapters in its history of relations with immigrants, as reason for not accepting Syrian refugees.

An illuminating Twitter account called Historical Opinion this week reproduced the results of a poll published in Fortune magazine in July 1938, which found that just 5 per cent of Americans surveyed believed the US should raise immigration quotas or encourage refugees seeking to escape fascist regimes in Europe. More than two-thirds said the US “should try to keep them out”.

Republicans have also used history to reinforce their anti- immigrant plans. In the party’s last presidential debate, Trump recalled how President Dwight Eisenhower moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants back across the Mexican border in the 1950s.

US immigration officials claimed that as many as 1.3 million undocumented immigrants were arrested and forcibly removed, though historians claim the figure was far lower. The programme was called “Operation Wetback,” a term offensive to Mexicans.

In more than six decades, little has changed in the use of derogatory language in American public life.

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