President Barack Obama gave an impassioned speech on Tuesday, blasting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his anti-Muslim comments in the wake of Sunday’s Orlando, Florida, shooting.
“We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating to America,” Obama said. “We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?”
On Monday, Trump reiterated his ban on Muslims immigrants and descriptions of them as a “Trojan horse” in a terrifying speech that also made vague accusations seeming to allege that Orlando’s Muslims knew that Omar Mateen was going to stage an attack but didn’t do anything about it.
“[The Muslims] know what’s going on. They know that he was bad,” Trump said. “They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death, and destruction.”
Obama’s remarks were a direct rebuke to this sort of language pitting “us” non-Muslim Americans against “them” Muslims. The president noted that Mateen, one of the killers in the aforementioned San Bernardino rampage, and the Fort Hood shooter were all American citizens.
“Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign,” he said. “Do Republican officials actually agree with this?”
Obama also talked about where things stood in the fight against ISIS, called for new action banning people on terrorist watch lists from getting guns, and defended his decision not to use the words “radical Islam” when discussing terrorism. (Trump said after the Orlando shooting that the president should be disqualified from office for not using those words).
“There has not been a moment in my seven and a half years as president where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label ‘radical Islam,’ ” he said of his administration’s fight against ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups. “Not once has an adviser of mine said, ‘Man, if we really use that phrase, we are going to turn this whole thing around.’
“The reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism,” he continued. As he has in the past, the president argued that it fed into the propaganda of groups like ISIS and al-Qaida if American leaders described the fight against them as a war between Islam and the West.
“They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus [Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions], that they speak for Islam,” he said. “That’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”
Obama actually reserved his most impassioned, and angriest, words for his rebuke of Trump, saying the Republican’s language on how he would treat Muslims as president don’t “reflect our democratic ideals” and harm the fight against terrorism.
“It won’t make us more safe, it will make us less safe, fueling [ISIS’s] notion that the West hates Muslims, making young Muslims in this country and around the world feel like no matter what they do, they are going to be under suspicion and under attack,” he said of proposals like Trump’s. “It makes Muslim Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.”
In a seeming nod to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Obama chastised those who would suggest singling out all Muslims for suspicion as Trump did in his speech on Monday.
“We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear and we came to regret it,” he said. “We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history.”
Finally, he noted that targeting Muslims for additional scrutiny on the basis of their faith alone was in direct clash with the values of the Constitution.
“We don’t have religious tests here. Our Founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that,” he said. “If we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect, the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make this country great, the very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won.”
“We cannot let that happen,” he added. “I will not let that happen.”