- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2015

American Muslims at a debate watch party Tuesday recoiled in disgust from Donald Trump and nearly every other presidential candidate on the stage, saying Republicans had made them targets for anti-Muslim bigotry and violence.

In the debate, Mr. Trump said his proposals were not about isolating America and shutting people out but about “making America safe.”

“It doesn’t look good from where I’m sitting,” said Ilhan Cagri, 63, who works for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the advocacy group that organized the watch party. “It’s dangerous for the people who are targeted. It’s hate speech and it’s a hate crime. If he was saying these things against Jews, we would arrest him.

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“People have been shot. Mosques have been vandalized,” she said. “The number of hate crimes [has] gone up since San Bernardino and since Trump spoke out. Bullying in the schools has gone up. Children are being bullied in the schools.”

Her religion became a focus of the presidential race after Mr. Trump, the GOP front-runner, proposed a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. until federal authorities can figure out how to better identify radical Islamic terrorists.

Ms. Cagri said that many Muslims invited to the watch party refused to attend. In an email, a friend said: “It was like Jews going to watch a Nazi Party debate.”

She agreed with that sentiment but said that she wanted to be informed. “It’s painful to all the people who love this country,” she said.

But Mr. Trump’s Muslim ban remained popular with Republican voters, with a majority of GOP voters backing the plan and Mr. Trump soaring in national polls since he floated the idea.

Farham Syed, a natural-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, said the atmosphere had grown so poisonous against Muslims that it affected his 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

“My children asked me if Trump gets elected, do we have to leave the country,” said Mr. Syed, 40, who works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the Washington area.

“The tide is there,” he said of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

Sair Sufi, who hosted the watch party for a dozen fellow Muslims at her home in an affluent Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, said that Mr. Trump was a “hypocrite.”

“He needs to get his facts straight. He obviously does not have a filter, but that seems to be working for him,” said Mrs. Sufi, 36, a stay-at-home mom. “He should find a way to bring people together rather than hate one another.”

There is no precise figure on how many Muslims are in the U.S. because the Census does not track religions. It is estimated that there are 2.6 million Muslims, or less than 1 percent of the population, though their numbers are expected to nearly triple to 6.2 million by 2030.

Muslims overwhelmingly voted Democratic in recent elections, according to exit polls. A 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of Muslim Americans viewed the GOP as unfriendly toward their community, while 15 percent viewed the party as friendly toward them.

By contrast, 46 percent said the Democratic Party is friendly toward Muslims and just 7 percent said it is unfriendly.

A 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of Muslim Americans viewed the Republicans as unfriendly toward their community, while 15 percent viewed the party as friendly toward them.

By contrast, 48 percent said the Democratic Party is friendly toward Muslims, and just 7 percent said it is unfriendly.

Those numbers likely are not getting better for Republicans after the debate spurred by Mr. Trump.

Yousuf Rehman, 17, who will vote in his first presidential election next year, said he consistently scored as a Republican in tests that measure political philosophies. But he’ll likely register as a Democrat because of Mr. Trump, he said.

“It’s not Islam they hate. They just want to go after the little guy,” he said.

Ms. Cagri, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Turkey and has lived in the U.S. since age 5, said Muslims get branded as terrorists despite there being violent “wackos” in every religion.

“I am an America. I love this country,” she said. “But there have been 355 mass shooting in this country this year, and two of them have been at the hands of Muslims.”

She cited a disputed statistic for mass shootings that is much broader than the FBI definition of mass murder, which counts incidents with at least four fatalities. Under the FBI standard, the U.S. had 40 mass-murder events so far this year.

Ms. Cagri said that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the husband-and-wife jihadi team that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, would not have been called terrorists if they hadn’t been Muslims.

“They are crazy. There is something wrong with them. But they are just as crazy as the guy who shot up the Planned Parenthood [clinic] in Colorado,” she said. “If he had been Muslim, then he would have fallen under the terrorist category, too.”

Another debate watcher, Sarah Cochran, who is a Republican, said the debate underscored the confusion between Arab politics or tribal culture and the larger Muslim community.

“Only 20 percent of the world’s Muslims are Arabs and most of our problems are stemming from the Middle East,” Ms. Cochran said.


She said Mr. Trump’s anti-Muslim stance “shows ignorance.”

Ms. Cochran said that she remained undecided about who to support in the Republican race, adding that she was not excited about any of the choices.

“The top two — Trump and Cruz — are crazy. I’m afraid of them,” she said.

Amid widespread condemnation from news commentators and politicians on both sides of the aisle, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers went up.

He hit a new high of 38 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post national poll of GOP voters released Tuesday, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas a distant second at 15 percent.

The survey also found that his proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country was supported by 59 percent of Republican primary voters. However, about the same amount — 60 percent — of Americans overall opposed the idea. That includes 82 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents.

A 54 percent majority of Americans said Islam generally is a peaceful religion, compared to 28 percent who said Islam encourages violence.

Meanwhile, 73 percent said Muslims living in the U.S. experience discrimination because of their religion, compared to 22 percent who say they do not.

Several people at the watch party said they had a positive impression of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican candidate who gained attention for taking the strongest stand against the proposed Muslim ban, including saying Mr. Trump should “go to hell.”

They did not acknowledge, however, Mr. Graham being one of the most hawkish of the candidates on foreign policy, who has proposed U.S. intervention throughout the Middle East.

Mr. Graham, who remains at the back of the crowded GOP field, continued to hammer Mr. Trump’s plan at the earlier “kids table” debate for candidates with the lowest poll numbers.

Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do — declare war on Islam itself,” said the South Carolina senator, though he also said he would support Mr. Trump if he is the party’s nominee.

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