Islamophobia in the 2016 Elections

[This piece was originally published on April 25, 2015. The candidates statements are updated frequently, and the introduction was updated in January 2016.]

Anti-Muslim rhetoric in American presidential campaigns is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, it’s only been a wedge issue in the four contests since 9/11, a period in which Muslims have increasingly been viewed through a lens of national security. As candidates vie for the White House, they invariably make the case that they’re tough when it comes to foreign policy, and resolute when it comes to protecting national security. Today, that inevitably involves talking about Islam.

Of course, it’s not just talking about Islam that’s the problem, but rather the degree to which that talk can veer off in the direction of prejudice and fear-mongering. We’ve seen it happen before.

In the lead-up to the 2012 race, Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich played to conspiracy theories about the influence of Islamic Sharia law. When asked if he would be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in a cabinet position or as a federal judge, Herman Cain said no. “There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government,” he continued.

The 2016 presidential election campaign has already deliver heaping doses of anti-Muslim rhetoric. GOP frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson have received considerable attention for some of their statements about Muslims. In December 2015, Trump proposed that the United States temporarily “ban” all Muslims from the country, and in the fall of 2015, Ben Carson expressed his view that a Muslim shouldn’t be president. But other GOP candidates’ prejudicial statements have received less attention.

All three Democratic candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Governor Martin O’Malley, and Senator Bernie Sanders have called out candidates like Trump for their statements about Muslims and used the term “Islamophobia” to describe the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.

Below, we’ve compiled some of the problematic statements made by declared presidential contenders, and will document and analyze others as they occur. We look for statements that exhibit generalization (make a simplified statement about “Muslims” or “Islam” based on the actions of a select few); misattribution (suggest that an action carried out by a Muslim is necessarily linked to his or her faith); or reductionism (representing Muslims’ diversity to one single issue, i.e., jihad, Sharia, etc.). We also look for instances where candidates have appeared in public with controversial anti-Muslim figures, or where they fearmonger about issues related to Islam.

We have also highlighted below when candidates have explicitly spoken out against Islamophobia during the election season.

The absence of a declared candidate below suggests that we have not found statements or associations that exhibit or fuel Islamophobia, or that highlights or challenge Islamophobia.

See the candidates:

Governor Jeb Bush | Senator Ted Cruz | Senator Lindsey Graham | Governor Mike Huckabee | Governor Bobby Jindal | Governor George Pataki | Senator Rand Paul | Senator Marco Rubio | Senator Rick Santorum | Donald Trump | Governor Scott Walker | Ben Carson | Hillary Clinton | Bernie Sanders | Martin O’Malley

Donald Trump

Trump Calls For Ban on Muslim Immigration

In a campaign press release in early December 2015, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” His proposal, which he reiterated in a press conference, was widely criticized by politicians on both the right and left. His plan for a Muslim ban is one of the clearest examples of Islamophobic rhetoric thus far in the election season, given that it is premised on a sweeping generalization of Muslims that pins the actions of a fraction of the population on members of the faith everywhere around the world. Trump doubled down on his proposed ban in his first television campaign ad in January 2016.

Trump Refuses to Challenge Anti-Muslim Supporter

At a September campaign rally in New Hampshire, a supporter of Donald Trump told the candidate during a question and answer session that “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our president is one. You know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing when [sic] they want to kill us. My question: When can we get rid of them?”

Rather than responding to the false suggestion that Obama is a Muslim, or as Colin Powell did in 2008, adding that “Muslim” is not a slur, and following the Islamic faith is not a bad thing, he instead replied that “We are going to be looking at a lot of different things.”

Trump: Under Obama, Muslims Can Immigrate to the US, Christians Can’t

In May of 2015, Trump attended the Iowa National Security Action Summit where an attendee asked him what he believed was “the most prominent lie that the American public is being propagandized in regards to national security.” Trump’s response, seen in the clip below, included a mention of immigration. He said: “Muslims can come in but other people can’t; Christians can’t come into this country but Muslims can. Something has got to be coming down from the top,” Trump said. “Muslims can come in but Christians can’t, and the Muslims aren’t in danger but the Christians are.” The suggestion played into innuendos that Obama is in cahoots with Muslim groups, and gives them preferential treatment. It also plays into demographic fear mongering, by suggesting that Muslims are immigrating to the United States in large numbers, and that Muslim immigration is a bad thing to begin with.

Trump Suggests the United States is at War With Islam, Then Walks it Back

In a 2010 interview with late-night talkshow host David Letterman, Trump discussed the Park51 Islamic Community Center in Manhattan. During the exchange, Trump remarked that the proposed building was “not appropriate” and “insensitive,” playing into to the logical fallacy of generalization (9/11 hijackers are bad, so other Muslims must be) and assigning collective blame. More concerning, though, was when Letterman asked Trump: “Does this, in fact, suggest that we are officially at war with Muslims?” Trump replied: “Well somebody knocked down the World Trade Center.” When Letterman pushed him on that remark, he walked it back, acknowledging that the United States is at war with the people who knocked down the towers. Responding to Letterman’s insistence that the Quran doesn’t compel Muslims towards “in your face” acts, Trump said: “Well, somebody knocked down the World Trade Center … Somebody’s blowing us up. Somebody’s blowing up buildings, and somebody’s doing lots of bad stuff.” Here’s the video of that exchange:

Trump: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.”

During the lead up to the 2012 presidential election, Donald Trump sat down with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asked Trump if there was a “Muslim problem” in the world. Trump’s response: “Absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t notice Swedish people knocking down the World Trade Center.” As in the previous example, Trump engages in generalization, taking the actions of a select few (the 9/11 hijackers) and suggesting that those actions constitute a “Muslim” problem overall. Here’s the clip:


In an interview with CBN, which aired later in the year, Trump took his remarks one step further, saying that the Quran “teaches some very negative vibe [sic] … when you look at people blowing up in the street in some countries in the Middle East … when you look at 250 people who die in a supermarket while shopping …. there’s a lot of hatred there someplace.” Here Trump engages in generalization by suggesting that the actions of terrorists around the world are linked to other Muslims by sheer virtue of their shared faith.

Trump: Peter King’s Radicalization Hearings are “Very Appropriate”

Trump supported the Congressional hearings held by Rep. Peter King, that investigated “radicalization” in American Muslim communities. He told Fox News in 2011: “Frankly there are problems in the world. The problems seem to be centered around this one group. As long as the hearings are fair, I think Pete’s a very fair guy. As long as the hearings are fair, I think it’s fine.” Here, Trump generalizes by taking extreme examples and applying them to the overall group — American Muslims — who he suggests should be investigated. He also reduces “radicalization” to the Muslim community only.

Trump Would Close Some US Mosques to Fight ISIS

In an interview in October of 2015, Fox Business host Stuart Varney asked Donald Trump about his ideas, if elected president, for combating ISIS. Varney referenced the UK, which has revoked passports of suspected extremists, and closed some mosques in which they operated. He asked if Trump would follow that lead. Trump replied, “I would do that. Absolutely. I think it’s great. I know they have lots of proposals over there. If you go out, you go fight for ISIS, you can’t come back. Why can’t you do it? You can do it here.”

Varney pressed him on the issue of closing mosques, asking if he could do such a thing as president, given laws regarding religious freedom. Trump said, “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t heard about the closing of a mosque. It depends on if the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear, I don’t know. You’re going to have to certainly look at it.”

After the Paris attacks, he also left open this option in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, saying: “There’s absolutely no choice.”

Trump Praises Discriminatory NYPD Muslim Spying Program

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on November 16, GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said this when asked what he would do domestically to prevent an attack by ISIS:

“You’re going to have to watch and study the mosques. Because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques, and from what I’ve heard in the old days, meaning a while ago, we had great surveillance going on in and around mosques in New York City…I’m not sure it’s a fact but I heard that under the old regime we had tremendous surveillance going on in and around the mosques of New York city.”

The spying program Trump praised did indeed exist. A secret program by the NYPD, the “Muslim Mapping” program “dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped, the department said.” It was uncovered by investigative reporters with the Associated Press in 2011 and later shut down. This “tremendous” 10-year program resulted in no leads or terrorism cases.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Trump also referred to Syrian refugees as a Trojan horse for ISIS fighters and said that he wouldn’t rule out shutting down mosques.

Trump Won’t Disavow a Registry to Track Muslims

When asked by a reporter on November 19 about implementing a Muslim database to combat terrorism, Trump said, “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” and emphasized the need for building a wall. When the reporter followed up, he didn’t back away from the idea and said, “I would certainly implement that, absolutely.”

After a media firestorm erupted around his comments, he attempted to walk his statement back on Twitter, saying a reporter suggested the policy. But when asked what distinguishes a Muslim database from the system implemented by Nazis to register Jews, he responded, “You tell me.”

Trump: Obama “Feels Comfortable” in Mosque

Following President Obama’s February 2016 visit to an American mosque, Donald Trump was asked to share his thoughts about it. Playing to the “birther” narratives that he deployed in 2011, he said that Obama probably visited the Baltimore mosque because “he feels comfortable” there. The implication on Trump’s part was that Obama is or may be a Muslim, and that such a thing is bad.

Trump: Islam Hates Us

In early March, Donald Trump spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and said: “I think Islam hates us.” Making little distinction between Muslim extremists and their religion, he added that “it’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” As we pointed out here, there are a number of problems with that statement, not the least of which its its reification of Islam and the idea that “us” doesn’t include Muslims, too.

Trump: 27% of Muslims are Very Militant

In mid-March, Trump joined Fox News host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” and, doubling down on his statement that “Islam hates us,” he suggested that there is a “tremendous” amount of hatred on the part of Muslims for the United States. Citing a Pew Research poll, Trump said that 27 percent of Muslims around the world are “very militant.” Robert Farley at responded to Trump’s comments, noting that they were not grounded in truth and misrepresented what Pew data did discover about Muslims’ views.


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Secretary Hillary Clinton

Was8928967-3898Clinton: American Muslims are Targeted with Islamophobia and Threats

In a Democratic Town Hall Debate in January 2016, Erum Tariq-Munir, an American Muslim woman, asked Secretary Clinton about the growing climate of anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States and how, as president, she would ensure that all people, regardless of their religious affiliation, are protected by the Constitution. Clinton said, in part: “American Muslims deserve better. And now their children and they are the target of Islamophobia and threats.”


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Governor Rick Perry (withdrawn)

Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks to National Right to Life Convention

Rick Perry Attended Retreat Hosted by Anti-Muslim Funder David Horowitz

In November of 2014, Governor Perry was the keynote speaker at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Florida. Horowitz, who funds the anti-Muslim blogger Robert Spencer, is an important node of the Islamophobia network, outlined by the Center for American Progress, and has a long history of directing inflammatory statements at Muslim groups, on occasion, going so far a to call the religion of Islam a “sick death cult.”

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Governor Jeb Bush (withdrawn)

Bush Senior Advisor Championed Anti-Sharia Legislation & Other Islamophobic Causes

In March of 2015, Jeb Bush named Jordan Sekulow, a leading evangelical attorney and the Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) as a senior advisor. In 2011, Sekulow’s organization published a pamphlet titled “Shari’a Law: Radical Islam’s Threat to the U.S. Constitution,” which claimed that “devout Muslims cannot truthfully swear the oath to become citizens of the United States.” In 2012, Sekulow passionately defended the proposed ban on Sharia law in Oklahoma in an essay titled “In Defense of Oklahoma’s Sharia Ban.”

Two years earlier, in 2010, Sekulow’s group filed a lawsuit to prevent the construction of the Park 51 Islamic Community Center, and spoke at a rally opposed to it that was organized by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (the group behind the Muhammad cartoon contests). Here is a video of that:


Jeb Bush Responds to Nabela Noor’s Question on Islamophobia in January 2016 GOP Debate

In a January 2016 Republican debate, Gov. Bush called out the “broad-blanket kind of statements” made by candidate Donald Trump. He was asked to respond to a question by Nabela Noor, a Muslim beauty vlogger, asked about how candidates would deal with the “toxic climate” of Islamophobia and promote increased tolerance. He too called the environment “toxic,” and reminded the audience that “our words have consequences.” He went on: “Nabela’s a rising entrepreneur. She wants to pursue the American dream. She’s an American citizen. She should not feel uncomfortable about her citizenship. She’s not the threat…”

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Senator Rick Santorum (withdrawn)

Obama & Bush “Gave All Muslims a Pass” For Not Holding Islam Accountable for Terrorism

In a speech at Liberty University in November of 2014, Rick Santorum suggested that President Obama and President Bush did not put more pressure on Muslim groups to accept responsibility for acts of terrorism committed by their co-religionists. “I’m not saying all Muslims are terrorists, but we have an obligation to face the truth about who the enemy is and what they want to accomplish,” he said. “By not correctly identifying these Islamists for who they are, they’ve given all Muslims a pass for identifying a cancer within their own body.” The idea that Muslims are ignoring extremism is patently false (see our Map of ISIS condemnations). In reality, they are speaking out. Here, Santorum engages in the logical fallacies of misattribution and generalization, suggesting that acts of violence carried out by Muslims around the world are carried out because those individuals are Muslims, and that, as a result, violence is something that characterizes the entire Muslim community who, in his view, should not be “given a pass,” but subjected to increased scrutiny.

Santorum Suggests That Only Muslims Are Violent

At a Value Voters Summit in September 2014, Santorum commented on violence in the Middle East, and made a clear distinction between Muslims and Christians, saying: “Christendom [once] expanded by the sword, that doesn’t happen anymore … you don’t have any Baptist ministers going on jihad. The Western world has come to terms with religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and that persuasion is the way to spread the faith.” Of course, there are numerous examples of violence in the name of Christianity today, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, fighters in the Central African Republic, derivatives of the Christian Patriot Movement, including the Hutarees, the Christian Identity Movement, and others. And, as Think Progress notes, “While Santorum casts the West as a region that has moved beyond religious persecution, many in the United States still struggle to freely exercise their faith. Religious minorities such as Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and many other believers throughout the United States regularly endure physical beatings and attacks on their houses of worship at the hands of those who disagree with them.”

Santorum: Equality “Doesn’t Come from Islam”

“[Equality] doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions. It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Santorum said while on the presidential campaign trail in 2012. Religious groups criticized the comment, pointing to the numerous examples of equality in Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other religions.

Santorum Endorses Profiling Muslims


In a 2011 presidential debate, Santorum endorsed the practice of profiling in an effort to protect national security. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Santorum to explain who, exactly, he would look at, he said: “The folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. Obviously, Muslims would be someone you’d look at. The radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes, by and large, as well as younger males.” Santorum did not say how he would distinguish between “radical Muslims” and others.

2007: Santorum Appears at Event w/ Anti-Muslim Activist and Donor

In 2007, Santorum appeared alongside David Horowitz, the California-based activist whose foundation supports blogger Robert Spencer. The two appeared at the Academic Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., where Santorum warned of “Eurabia” and called for the “evangelization” and “eradication” of Muslims. During his address, the ex-Senator declared the need to ‘define the enemy,’ but he made little effort to distinguish between the general population of Muslims and violent Islamic extremists. If anything, he seemed to conflate the two. You can listen to portions of his remarks here, and read the full transcript here.

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Senator Ted Cruz

Cruz Taps Anti-Muslim Activist As Tennessee Campaign Chair

In early June, Cruz named Kevin Kookogey as his state chairman for Tennessee. In 2012, Kookogey oversaw the adoption of a resolution that condemned Tennessee Governor Bill Haslem for appointing a Muslim attorney to the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. The resolution read, in part: “Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has elevated and/or afforded preferential political status to Sharia adherents in Tennessee, thereby aiding and abetting the advancement of an ideology and doctrine which is wholly incompatible with the Constitution of the United States and the Tennessee Constitution.”

In 2011, Haslem, in his role as chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, hosted a luncheon for the Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders.

Cruz Appeared at New Hampshire Event w/ Anti-Muslim Hate Group Leader

In late March 2015, Cruz appeared at the New England Freedom Conference with anti-Muslim hate group leader, Robert Spencer, a blogger whose work was cited approvingly by the Norway terrorist Anders Breivik. Spencer’s organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), is the group behind controversial and provocative anti-Islam metro and bus ads. AFDI, whose activities we examine here, was also the group behind the raucous “Ground Zero Mosque” rallies in 2010, and more recently, hosted the Draw a Muhammad Cartoon contest (which awards the artist of the winning caricature $10,000). AFDI’s lawyer, David Yerushalmi, is the architect of much of the country’s anti-Sharia legislation.

Cruz Speaks at Muslim Brotherhood Conspiracy Theorist’s “Defeat Jihad” Conference


In early February 2015, Cruz was the featured speaker at the “Defeat Jihad Summit,” an event organized by Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. Gaffney is largely responsible for spinning the myth of the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged infiltration of the United States, and was the source of Representative Michele Bachmann’s claim that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, was linked to the group. Gaffney is also on the board of the anti-Muslim hate group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), and, along with David Yerushalmi, claims that Sharia law poses a threat to the United States.

At the event, Cruz discussed the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, implying that average Muslims would approve of the cartoonists’ murders. He said that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney did not try to “blow up the Book of Mormon stage” if he was offended by the musical parody of his Mormon religion. Cruz’ comparison was a dishonest one; it suggested that all Muslims would respond to insults to their religion in the manner of the Charlie Hebdo killers.

Cruz: “9/11 Hijackers Weren’t Just a Bunch of Ticked-Off Presbyterians.”

Cruz made this remark at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January 2015. Its underlying insinuation is that Islam is inherently violent and naturally inspires its followers to commit violent acts. According to Cruz’s logic, angry Muslims do violent things of catastrophic proportions, but “ticked-off Presbyterians” don’t. This statement embodies the common trope of the “violent Muslim.”

Cruz: Sharia Law is an enormous problem.”

At a July 2012 event in Willis, Texas, Cruz was asked whether he viewed “Sharia Law” as a problem in the United States. It’s an “enormous” problem, he said.

Numerous studies have debunked that claim. In a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress, Wajahat Ali and Matt Duss wrote:

“The extreme Christian right in America has been trying for decades to inscribe its view of America as a “Christian nation” into our laws. They have repeatedly failed in a country in which more than three-quarters of people identify as Christians. It’s extremely unlikely that an extreme faction of American Muslims, a faith community that constitutes approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, would have more success.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said plainly in a detailed report:

“There is no evidence that Islamic law is encroaching on our courts. On the contrary, the court cases cited by anti-Muslim groups as purportedly illustrative of this problem actually show the opposite: Courts treat lawsuits that are brought by Muslims or that address the Islamic faith in the same way that they deal with similar claims brought by people of other faiths or that involve no religion at all.”

As Anti-Muslim Attacks Spike, Cruz Dismisses the Problem

In December 2015, Ted Cruz spoke at the Heritage Foundation, criticizing Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s recent remarks about the need to crack down on anti-Muslim discrimination. Despite the fact that anti-Muslim attacks jumped in November and December 2015, Cruz dismissed Lynch’s assessment and implied that acknowledging the reality of Islamophobia is dangerous.

Cruz Appoints Frank Gaffney As Campaign Advisor

Among Ted Cruz’s national campaign advisors is Frank Gaffney of the Washington, DC think tank, the Center for Security Policy. The Bridge Initiative has drawn attention to the anti-Muslim and conspiratorial nature of Gaffney’s claims, including the suggestion that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim; that the United States is being overtaken by Sharia, or Islamic law; and that the Muslim Brotherhood is actively plotting from inside the United States to wage “civilizational jihad.”

Cruz Calls for Patrols in Muslim Neighborhoods in US

Following the attacks in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016, Cruz suggested that the US “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” His statement was problematic for a number of reasons. First, it generalizes “Muslims” as the primary focus when it comes to terrorism or acts of violence in the United States, presuming their guilt by the simple virtue of their religious beliefs. Additionally, it supposes that there are “Muslim neighborhoods” exist across the country — an idea that conjures up a conspiracy theory that floated around earlier this year about “no go zones” in the U.K.

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Senator Rand Paul (campaign suspended)

Paul Recommends Heightened Scrutiny for Muslim Immigrants

After the July 2015 shooting in Chattanooga, TN, in which a Muslim gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, killed four Marines, Paul told Breitbart news: “I’m very concerned about immigration to this country from countries that have hotbeds of jihadism and hotbeds of this Islamism. I think there does need to be heightened scrutiny. Nobody has a right to come to America, so this isn’t something that we can say ‘oh, their rights are being violated.’ It’s a privilege to come to America and we need to thoroughly screen those who are coming.”

Paul Compares Proponents of Park 51 Islamic Community Center to KKK

In an interview with Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart in May of 2015, Paul discussed religious liberty and the 2010 example of the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in Manhattan. “When they told me that they were going to build a mosque at [the site of the] 9/11 [attacks], I was horrified and thought that was a terrible thing. But I’m not for a law to prevent that. If you want to march down the street and you’re a part of the KKK, I’m horrified by that and object to it, but the first amendment is about the right to be despicable,” he said. Stewart pushed back, criticizing the comparison of a religious group building a community center with the KKK. The tacit message from Paul was that because the 9/11 perpetrators were Muslims, Islam was somehow culpable, and other Muslims, by simple virtue of their adherence to Islam, were connected to the tragedy.

Paul: Limit Immigration to France on the Basis of Religious Affiliation

In the wake of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in France in January 2015, Paul said that “Maybe every Muslim immigrant that wishes to come to France shouldn’t have an open door.” It wasn’t just France, though. Paul added that his idea to limit Muslim immigration should extend to “many of these other [European] countries that had old colonies in predominantly Muslim areas.” Ironically, the two Charlie Hebdo were not immigrants to France — they were born in Paris to parents who immigrated from Algeria. Still, Paul’s suggestion exhibited guilt by association, linking the actions of two gunmen to any and every Muslim around the world that seeks to move to Europe who, he suggests, should be viewed with increased scrutiny simply because they are of the same religious affiliation as the attackers.

Paul: “Tens of millions”of Muslims are waging war on Christians

At the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. in October of 2013, Paul said that Christians all around the world, “from Boston to Zanzibar,” are under attack by as many “as many as tens of millions of” Muslims who lash out at them so frequently it’s “almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages.” Paul did not cite any statistic to back up the large number. At The Daily Beast, comedian Dean Obeidallah writes:

“Of course, there was no mention by Paul of the Muslims in Pakistan who recently gathered by the hundreds, locking arms and encircling a church to protect Christians from radicals. Nor did Paul mention that these so-called Muslim terrorists overwhelmingly slaughter more Muslims than people of other faiths. Indeed, Muslims have been the victims of ‘between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.’”

In 2012, Paul Ran Muslim-Baiting Attacks Ads

Paul’s political action committee, RandPAC, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, attacking three Senators for voting in favor of foreign aid to Muslim-majority countries.


The ad said, in part, “Instead of putting hard-working West Virginians first, you voted to send billions of taxpayer dollars to nations where they shout ‘death to America,’ kill our Ambassador and allow radical Islamists to burn our embassies.” The language and imagery of Paul’s ad conflate the ordinary Muslim citizens of Egypt, Pakistan, and Libya with the actions of a handful of extremists in those countries — flag burners, bin Laden supporters, and those responsible for the Benghazi attacks. The result is a whitewash, whereby “they” (meaning the Muslim people of those countries, rather than a few radicals) killed our Ambassador, and “they” shout “death to America.”

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Senator Bernie Sanders


Sanders: We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia

At Cleveland State University in November 2015, Bernie Sanders spoke about Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S. He said: “I am disturbed by some of what I am hearing from my Republican colleagues, and I will just say this: During these difficult times, as Americans we will not succumb to racism. We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia.”

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Senator Marco Rubio (withdrawn)

Considered Excluding Foreign Muslims From Student VISAS

In April of 2013, following the Boston Marathon bombings, Marco Rubio entertained the possibility of barring Muslim students from overseas from seeking student VISAS to the United States. On Fox News, Rubio said that he was prepared to agree with host Bob Beckel, who said that anyone who observes Islam should not get a VISA.

In another exchange with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, Rubio reiterated his earlier comments: “I’m saying if there are indicators people are coming from parts of the world where dangerous people are living and plotting against us that should be a factor determining whether we allow people to come here from there or not.” Rubio takes the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, immigrants to the United States, and suggests, as Rand Paul does above, that Muslim students who want to immigrate to the United States to study may pose a danger because they, like the Tsarnaev brothers, are Muslims and it is their religious beliefs — presumed to be the same — that are the culprit of violence. 

Appearing on ABC’s This Week on November 15, 2015, Rubio discussed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islam.” In doing so, he drew reference to 1940s Germany, comparing Muslims to members of the Nazi party. He said: “That would be like saying we’re at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves.” As Bridge Initiative Research Fellow Jordan Denari wrote in a piece published in the Huffington Post, comparisons of Nazi-era Germans and Muslims are extremely persistent, and operate on the idea that groups like ISIS and ordinary Muslims share the same worldview: one rooted in a religion that, at its core, is violent. She wrote: “The argument about the inherent violence of Islam reveals a lack of connection with the way ordinary Muslims view their tradition — as a source of goodness, a fount of wisdom from which they draw motivation to serve others and work for justice and peace.” Rubio’s comments serve to conflate ordinary Muslims with groups like ISIS.

Rubio Asks, “Where Is There Widespread Evidence?” of Discrimination Against Muslims 

Following President Obama’s December 2015 address to the nation on national security, Rubio appeared on Fox News, saying:

“The cynicism! The cynicism tonight, to spend a significant amount of time talking about discrimination against Muslims. Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?”

Rubio made these comments amid a spike in attacks against Muslims that was covered by numerous national newspapers and television networks.

Later, in February of 2016, following President Obama’s first visit to an American mosque, Rubio deployed similar criticism. Downplaying the importance of Obama’s speech, Rubio dismissed the idea that anti-Muslim discrimination warranted such a public discussion, suggesting instead that the focus be on “radical Islam.”

“Look at today: he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s discrimination in America, of every kind. But the bigger issue is: radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.”

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Governor Mike Huckabee (withdrawn)

Obama gives his “undying” support to “the Muslim community.”

This remark, which Huckabee delivered in February of 2015, didn’t make a distinction between “radical” Muslims, “extremist” Muslims, or others. Huckabee hit Obama on his support for “the Muslim community” writ large. Journalist Peter Beinart noted that one way to see the bigotry in that statement was to insert another religious group for “Muslims.”

If Huckabee had said, for instance, that Obama gives his “undying support” to “the Jewish community,” charges of anti-Semitism would abound.

Huckabee: Muslims are like “uncorked animals.”

In August 2013, Huckabee said this:

“Can someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days.’ You know, if you’ve kept up with the Middle East, you know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.”

By saying that Islam promotes “the most murderous mayhem on the planet,” Huckabee takes the actions of a few violent people, reduces them to actions that are religiously motivated, and maligns non-violent Muslims — the vast majority. Additionally, while demonstrations across the Middle East do often occur on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, that has less to do with religion and more to do with the fact that Friday is a day when large numbers of people are out in the public to begin with.

Huckabee: Christians Shouldn’t Open their Churches to Muslims.

In an interview with Fox & Friends in February 2011, Huckabee repudiated two Protestant churches that opened their doors to local Muslims whose mosques were too small or under construction. He told the hosts:

“If the purpose of a church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I have a hard time understanding that.”

Here again, Huckabee takes an extreme example and applies it to all Muslims. The view he expresses is held by en extreme minority in the world, yet he generalizes to conclude that the Muslims to whom he refers in the United States must also share that view.

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Governor Martin O’Malley (Campaign suspended)

<> on July 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.

O’Malley Was the First Candidate to Use the Word Islamophobia in Highlighting Anti-Muslim Prejudice 

In October of 2015, Martin O’Malley visited the Arab American Institute and spoke about discrimination that regularly faces Muslims, many of whom are of Arab background. In his remarks he said: “Sometimes this Islamophobia and xenophobia seeps into the mainstream. I wish it weren’t so. But this is the great work of our times that we need to be involved in healing.”

During that visit he also spoke about the “shadowy network” of activists and groups promotes fear and misinformation about Muslims. (See 11:50 in the video below.)

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Governor George Pataki (withdrawn)

In Opposing the “Ground Zero Mosque,” Pataki Conflates Islam and Terrorism

In a 2010 interview with former MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, Pataki voiced his strong opposition to the Park 51 Islamic Community Center, dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Like many, his opposition was grounded in issues of “sensitivity,” which wrongly suggest accountability on the part of ordinary Muslims for the violent actions of their co-religionists on 9/11. Here’s a part of the exchange:

Ratigan: Why is it inherently wrong for a mosque to exist near ground zero? And the reason I ask the question is this, are we operating as a society on the presumption that all Muslims are terrorists that want to kill us and as such any Muslim gathering place is a higher statistical probability of our own death or subjection to terrorism by the mere mathematical equivalency of Muslims equals terrorists?

Pataki: No… no, no. Dylan of course not. If this were a corner mosque for a local community, I don’t think you would hear this reaction at all, but this is supposed to be a major center of Islamic… ah… whatever… tolerance… it’s 12 to 15 stories high. This is not the neighborhood mosque… (crosstalk)

Ratigan: But what’s the difference with it being Muslim?

Pataki: This is a symbol of Islam being built two blocks… (crosstalk)

Ratigan: What’s wrong with that?

Pataki: Let me tell… the point is that it was Islamist terrorists who attacked us on September 11th they weren’t Buddhists, they weren’t Episcopalians (crosstalk)…

When asked about monitoring mosques, Pataki says, “I would do everything in our power.” 

During the 5pm Republican Presidential Debate held by Fox News, Martha McCallum asked the former governor, “How far are you willing to go to root out this problem [of Islamic extremists]? Would you put mosques, potentially, under surveillance?” He said,“I would do everything in our power,” and later continued, “we have to shut down their Internet capability, we have to shut down whether they’re in prisons preaching or in mosques preaching. No radical Islam that is allowed to engage and encouraging violence against Americans, that is not free speech.”

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Senator Lindsey Graham (withdrawn)

“Allahu Akbar” is a “War Chant.”

Back in September of 2013, Lindsey Graham told Fox News that the oft-recited Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (which means “God is greater”) is a “war chant.” It appears to be the case here, (and this year when he said that the word “the” in Arabic is “bad news.”) that Graham is ignorant about the actual meaning of these words. But this remark contributes to a climate of sustained negative imagery of Islam, where militants who recite the phrase are considered the norm, not the tens of millions of other Muslims around the world who say it as an exhortation of praise.

“If I have to monitor a mosque, I’ll monitor a mosque.”
Graham: Charleston Shootings Remind Me of “MidEast Hate.”

Following the deadly Charleston church shootings in June of 2015, which killed 9 people, Lindsey Graham took to the Senate floor and said: “I don’t know how you can sit with somebody for an hour in a church and pray with them and get up and shoot them. That’s Mideast hate,” Graham said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “That’s something I didn’t think we had here, but apparently we do.” Graham’s comments played into the narrative that “hate” is an especially Middle Eastern characteristic.

At the 5pm GOP presidential debate hosted by Fox News on August 6, 2015, Graham said with ease that he’d monitor the houses of worship of American Muslims. What many don’t know is that law enforcement agencies have long been spying on houses of worship and other institutions, a policy that has generated deep distrust and that many call unconstitutional.

“Come with me to Iraq and Afghanistan…I’ll show you what they do to women.”

In the same debate, Graham said, “You want to see a war on women? Come with me to Iraq and Afghanistan, folks, I’ve been there 35 times. I’ll show you what they do to women.” Graham uses the vague word “they,” implying that typical, ordinary men in Muslim-majority countries like Iraq and Afghanistan mistreat women. This comment plays into the centuries-old Islamophobic trope of the barbaric Muslim man oppressing the disenfranchised woman.

“Young men from the Middle East are different than Kim Davis.”

In the first round of the second GOP debate in September, Lindsey Graham responded to a question about discrimination against Muslims, saying: “I’m not worried about Kim Davis [a county clerk in Kentucky who defied a federal order to issue same-sex marriage licenses and was subsequently jailed] attacking me. I am worried about radical Islamic terrorists who are already here planning another 9/11. We’re at war folks … Here’s the reality: young men from the Middle East are different than Kim Davis.” Graham’s generalization of “young men from the Middle East” plays into existing fears of terrorism. Additionally, by invoking what he viewed as a parallel controversy (the Kim Davis controversy), he downplayed the seriousness of anti-Muslim discrimination.

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Ben Carson (withdrawn)

Ben Carson: US Shouldn’t Elect a Muslim President

In an exchange with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday, September 20, 2015, Ben Carson said: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” His comments, which set off a firestorm in the media, came on the heels of a revived public debate about Islam in American life, and Islamophobia. Earlier in the week, 14 year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to his ninth grade class. Other GOP candidates called on Carson to apologize. In an interview on Sunday, September 20, 2015, Carson told The Hill that he would make an exception if a Muslim candidate “publicly rejected all the tenets of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.” He also made numerous references to the buzzword “taqiyya,” an Arabic term that, historically, permitted Muslims to hide their religious identity if at risk of significant persecution. Carson and others have latched on the word, suggesting that Muslims may lie in an effort to advance their beliefs. This charge has come up in other forms of religious prejudice as well. As Peter Gottschalk notes in American Heretics, “claims of secret plans, languages, and organizations can trigger fears of an invisible malignant danger.” This has been directed at Jesuits, Jews, Mormons, and others.

See the video here:

Ben Carson: A Muslim President Would Have to “Subjugate” Their Beliefs

Responding to the controversy prompted by his earlier remarks about not supporting a Muslim presidential candidate, Carson refined his views, though slightly. He told ABC News that a Muslims could, indeed, be president but he or she would have to “subjugate” some of the aspects of his or her faith. Carson focused primarily on Sharia, or Islamic law, pointing only to the most extreme and stereotypical cases, and supposing that those extreme interpretations are held by all Muslims and configure centrally into their views of the world. This line of reasoning — that Muslims must adapt certain features of Islam to align with Western, and especially American, values has become more prominent in recent months and years. It is a view that has no political home base, and is shared by people at both ends of the spectrum, including Bill Maher and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on the one hand, and Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson on the other.

Ben Carson: Okay with Muslim Supreme Court Justice if they Don’t Practice Islam

In an interview with American radio show host Hugh Hewitt on October 1, 2015, Carson said that he would be willing to appoint a Muslim to the Supreme Court if they rejected “the lifestyle … which incorporates Sharia.” He added that the Senate hearings for a hypothetical nominee would probe the degree to which they support Islamic law, which he described as “more than just a relationship — it’s a political aspect and a whole style of living.”

Governor Scott Walker (withdrawn)

Walker: Only a “handful” of “reasonable, moderate followers of Islam.”

At a campaign stop in Derby, New Hampshire in July 2015, Governor Scott Walker acknowledged that not every Muslim in the world is an extremist, but added that there are but a “handful” of “reasonable” or moderate followers of Islam.



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Governor Bobby Jindal (withdrawn)

Jindal: “Islam has a problem.”

During the 5pm Republic Presidential debate hosted by Fox News on August 6, 2015, Jindal said, “Unlike President Obama, I’ll actually name the enemy that we confront. We’ve got a president who cannot bring himself to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ Now, Bill, he loves to criticize America, apologize for us, criticize medieval Christians. How can we beat an enemy if our commander-in-chief doesn’t have the moral honesty and clarity to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam.”

This is not a new position for Jindal. In his remarks at Henry Jackson Society in January, he also flatly placed blame on Islam for violence carried out in its name: “Let’s be honest. Islam has a problem.” Here, Jindal generalizes, taking examples of violence on the part of some Muslims and suggesting that the entire religion of Islam, rather than their particular interpretation of it, has “a problem.”

In the August debate, Jindal also said, “they’ve got to condemn not generic acts of violence, but the individual murderers who are committing these acts of violence.” By insisting that Muslims should condemn violence committed by their co-religionists is problematic for two reasons: 1) Many, many Muslim leaders consistently speak out against terrorist acts, and 2) it assumes that there is an inherent connection between those acting violently and the general Muslim population.

Jindal Advances the “No-Go Zone” Myth“

In January of 2015, Bobby Jindal criticized what he called the “non-assimilation” of Muslim immigrants to Europe and the United States. He repeatedly claimed that Muslim communities in Europe have set up “no-go zones,” or quarters of cities that are off limits to non-Muslims. He first made the remarks in a speech to the Henry Jackson Society in London, and then later on several news outlets. When pressed for details, Jindal demurred, saying that he had met with officials to talk about the zones, and also referenced a tabloid, the Daily Mail, that wrote about the mythical phenomenon. He told CNN that he had “heard from folks here that there are neighborhoods where women don’t feel comfortable going in without veils … We all know that there are neighborhoods where police are less likely to go into.” The claim of “no-go zones,” which was false, originated from Steven Emerson, an American journalist known for his critical views of Islam and Muslims. (It was Emerson who, in 1995, referred to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as having a “Middle Eastern trait.” The bombing was carried out by Timothy McVeigh). Even after Fox News apologized for Emerson’s inaccurate reference of “no-go” zones, Jindal still peddled the myth:

Jindal: Muslim Leaders Need to Condemn Terrorism

In his January interview with CNN about the “no-go zones,” Jindal remarked that Muslim leaders need to “condemn anyone who commits these acts of violence, and clearly state that these people are evil and are enemies of Islam.” This plea plays into the idea that Muslims are responsible for the actions of the extremists among them, but also flies in the face of reality: Muslims leaders have spoken out against terrorism and violence vociferously, and numerous groups and organizations have documented that. See the Bridge Initiative’s map of Muslim condemnations of ISIS.

Muslim immigration is part on an “invasion” with the goal of “colonization.”

Speaking on the Family Research Council’s podcast, Washington Watch, in late January, Jindal reiterated his belief in the existence of Muslim “no-go zones” and said this about Muslim immigrants: “They want to use our freedoms to undermine that freedom in the first place. This is a place where you have freedom of self-determination, freedom of religious liberty, freedom of speech. This is an amazing place and we’re a majority Christian country. We’re a Judeo-Christian heritage, but we don’t discriminate against those that have no beliefs and or have different beliefs.” Listen to the remarks here:

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