Donald Trump started his race to the head of the Republican pack by asking us whether Barack Obama was really American. (He’s still not sure.) Ben Carson suggested American Muslims cannot be trusted with high office. Ted Cruz thinks Muslims are more inclined to terrorism than Christians. The Chris Christie who once challenged anti-Muslim racism has disappeared and has been replaced by a new and unimproved Christie who declared he wouldn’t even accept a three year-old Syrian orphan refugee.
Presumably even if you’re raised elsewhere, and by someone else, you can’t fight genetics.
Even the supposed moderate in the race, Ohio governor John Kasich, wants a government bureau to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” It’s no surprise how ugly the conversation is getting. Since the Paris terrorist attacks, Donald Trump has argued we need to bring back mass surveillance of Muslims. Close some, or maybe all, mosques. The US needs “unprecedented measures” he said, including a database of all Muslims, or “a special form of identification that noted their religion.” Presumably this would not include the current president.
If you’ve been bombarded with these Islamophobic presumptions for much of your life, the logic seems clear. If Islam is more violent than other religions, if Muslims are disloyal, if Muslims are genetically predisposed to violence, then sure, then special ID cards aren’t intrusive, they’re urgently necessary.
But what would these identifiers look like? We’ve come up with five possibilities:
The black-and-white scarf worn across the Middle East (despite its Western association with Palestine) has a long checkered history in the US—remember this Rachel Ray ad? A must-have, go-to fashion item for urban guerillas, militants, protesters and contrarians the world over, mandatory keffiyeh wearing for American Muslims would make it abundantly clear who the real enemy is at all times.
Pluses: The scarf accommodates Islam’s diversity: A woman can cover her hair with it, or drape it fashionably around her neck. Protects second-class citizens from cold, rain, and incoming tear gas. Relatively inexpensive. Hard to turn into a weapon.
Minuses: Protects second-class citizens from cold, rain, and incoming tear gas. Most Muslims are not Arab, and may protest. (See also: Tear gas.) Might accidentally raise awareness for the Palestinian cause and generate treasonous sympathy. Comes in so many colors it might become too hard to spot.
We can just make all American Muslims wear Donald Trump’s bright red hats at all times.
Pluses: Donald Trump wins. Can be worn over the hair, or over the headscarf (which is worn over the hair). Muslim men can swing around backwards to accommodate Muslim prayer. Keeps the head warm. Easy to see from afar. Reminds you why Trump’s president.
Minuses: Like the scarf, an external clothing item can be easily misplaced or removed. Could be used to mock Trump by those who appreciate/understand irony.
Instead of cumbersome add-ons, we could also go with sewed-on patches. (Wait… why does that sound so familiar?) In a nod to the past, we could mandate all Muslims wear color-coded circular patches to reflect their latest DHS threat assessment, as per the old Homeland Security system.
Pluses: Could be easily manufactured in China, exported here at the cost of American jobs, and blamed on refugees. So easy to use, even Ben Carson could understand.
Minuses: Green could mean clean, or just really good at hiding. Might cause driverless cars to confuse Muslims with traffic lights.
The Arabic terror network—er, news channel—has long been a thorn in the right wing’s side. Revenge is a policy best served thoughtlessly. Plus the sight of anything in Arabic evokes panicky Islamaphobic outbursts, even when it’s Hebrew. Nifty Al Jazeera or even Al Jazeera America patches on every Muslim’s jacket, outer garment, t-shirt, gym shorts, scrubs, yoga pants, turban, keffiyeh or sweater vest could be a welcome safety measure.
Pluses: It‘s Arabic, and that’s scary.
Minuses: Might annoy Qatar, which hosts a major US military base. The association of Islam with news might create unwelcome first amendment questions, and reinvigorate annoying parts of the Constitution. Americans might realize Trump has branded properties in the Middle East.
A Disney tie-in represents an especially postmodern American spin on a grand old fascist tradition. Maybe we could make it glow-in-the-dark, just so we don’t have to worry about Muslims sneaking up on us at night. For full effect, we could always force Muslims to dress in full-on Hollywood orientalism, right out of Aladdin: Baggy trousers, a snazzy vest, a turban or top hat.
Pluses: About as straightforward as you can get. Bonus points for glow-in-the-dark features. Conforms to most people’s expectations of Islam.
Minuses: Overtly politically incorrect, even for Trump. Not sure how long glow-in-the-dark lasts. Reducing Muslims to cartoon characters might make them endearing over time.
“We’re going to have to do things we haven’t done before,” Trump said. Except not really.
Not so very long ago, Japanese Americans were detained en masse. In many of the same countries of Europe where anti-immigrant parties are now surging, Jews were once forced to wear identifying markers, a first step down a road that ended in the horror of the Holocaust. And yet here we are again. Maryland governor and Democratic presidential nominee O’Malley dismissed Trump as a “carnival barker,” but he’s not. He’s a frontrunner. He sets the tone, and every time he sinks lower into the mud, he opens up a sinkhole into which the entire Republican party eagerly throws itself. That should scare us-badly.
What happens if Muslims don’t want to carry special IDs? Does this apply to Muslim tourists? What about UN employees or embassy staff? What if someone pretends not to be Muslim? Who gets to determine who is, and isn’t, Muslim? What happens if you’ve got one parent who’s Muslim, and one who’s not?
Today we’re being forced to actually consider these questions.
Can we plausibly claim the hateful language of leading candidates, governors, senators and media personalities doesn’t reflect who we really are and what we really think? It’s possible before we can even put together a robust anti-ISIS coalition, the Republican Party’s Islamophobia may have killed off any hope for it. Not only is his language terrible for our secular democracy, it’s damaging to our national security.