Sometimes you just have to be aghast at people’s gut instincts.
After the lives of hundreds of innocent people in Brussels were disrupted horribly by terrorists’ bombs, American presidential candidates quickly weighed in.
Trying to capitalize on outrage, frustration and fear, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Muslim neighborhoods in the United States should be subjected to special patrol and surveillance by police.
This not only smacks of the Gestapo tactics used against Jews in World War II and our own disgraceful roundup of Japanese-American citizens, but it also would be dangerously counterproductive. It would exacerbate tensions, furthering the alienation of young Muslims and providing extra fodder to radicals looking to recruit.
As President Barack Obama noted one day after leaving Cuba, Cruz’s own father escaped from the island, a country that condones political surveillance.
New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump immediately signaled his agreement with Cruz and also reiterated his unconstitutional desires to ban Muslims from entering the United States and violate laws by torturing terrorist suspects.
That Trump and Cruz had the same instincts in the aftermath of tragedy shows how far they are from presidential material. (There is only enmity between Trump and Cruz. After some third-party group tweeted a picture of Trump’s wife, Melania, posing nude for GQ magazine, Trump demanded Cruz apologize, warning he would “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife, Heidi. He said nothing else. Cruz denied involvement.)
Obama’s gut instinct was to follow his schedule and attend a baseball game in Havana. He was castigated by Republicans but argued he would not give in to murderers’ efforts to disrupt normal life and spread fear.
After 9/11, “America’s mayor,” Republican Rudy Giuliani, went to Shea Stadium for the first professional sporting event in New York City after the attacks, cheering as the Mets played the Atlanta Braves.
Hillary Clinton’s gut instinct was dismay at the damage she said Trump and Cruz would do to foreign policy if they followed their instincts, banning Muslims and spying on domestic Muslims because of their religion. Trump also has called for torturing suspects’ families and closing U.S. borders. “How high does a wall have to be to keep out the Internet?” Clinton exclaimed.
The U.S. opposes torture for two strong reasons: Experts are convinced it does not work to give authorities valid information and it encourages terrorists to torture captured Americans. It also spreads distrust and anger against America around the world, making cooperation to stop terrorists more difficult.
John Kasich also was dismayed by the anti-Muslim sentiments openly espoused by Trump and Cruz: “We don’t want to create divisions where we say . . . ‘You’re a Muslim, we'll keep an eye on you.’ ” Bernie Sanders just shook his head in disgust at Trump and Cruz, saying we’re at war with terrorist networks, not the Muslim religion. The New York police commissioner proudly noted that he has more than 900 Muslim officers and excoriated Cruz, saying that discrimination against Muslims is exactly what the Islamic State seeks to recruit more terrorists.
So how do we channel our anger, pain and frustration at the senseless, vicious terrorism spreading around the globe?
We pay attention to our surroundings; if we see something, we say something — we don’t avoid getting involved.
We back our government’s efforts to choke off terrorists’ access to money and travel. We disrupt their networks. We share signal intelligence with Europe’s splintered police and intelligence groups. We pressure them to work together. We make it easier, not harder, for immigrants to the United States to assimilate to our culture. We don’t fight wars we can’t win. We employ air strikes on Islamic State leadership and wreck its financial systems. We try many strategies without being counterproductive. We uphold our ideals.
We are safer than Europeans, where porous borders among the European Union’s 28 nations permit terrorists to travel easily. Yes, we have radicalized individuals who must be stopped, but we don’t have entire radicalized communities as many cities in Europe do. We are not in danger of being colonized by the Islamic State. Barbarism will fail.
We must not succumb to our worst instincts.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.