Hours after suicide bombers killed more than 31 people and injured dozens more in Brussels on Tuesday, in an attack that ISIS eventually claimed responsibility for, Sen. Ted Cruz released a hard-edged response, calling for law enforcement agencies to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." The statement was particularly notable in that it seemed to directly target innocent American Muslims — a stance Cruz had not yet publicly taken.
His response drew immediate and widespread backlash, including from President Barack Obama, who had recently returned from Cuba when he criticized Cruz at a press conference yesterday.
"As far as the notion of having surveillance of neighborhoods where Muslims are present, I just left a country which engages in that sort of neighborhood surveillance, which by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free," Obama said. "The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It's contrary to who we are, and it's not going to help us defeat ISIL."
This is not new territory for Cruz, who's presidential campaign appears to be deeply rooted in Islamophobia. In the last six months, he has surrounded himself with anti-Muslim activists, called for indiscriminate surveillance and carpet-bombing of Muslim communities, and said he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Cruz's proposal to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods" would have a particularly large impact on Houston. According to the Washington Post, "many of the most concentrated Muslim populations are in Texas, including the Houston metro area." The 2010 Religious Census, cited here in the Texas Almanac, put the total number of Muslims in Texas at more than 420,000, making it the most populous state for Muslims. When put in that context, Cruz's anti-Islam rhetoric is especially disconcerting, considering how willingly he seems to be to alienate and target such a significant chunk of his own constituency.
Just last week, Cruz was criticized for assembling what appears to be an Islamophobe Dream Team, adding to his campaign a number of advisors who have a history of propagating bigoted ideas about Muslims, including Frank Gaffney, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center called "one of Americas most notorious Islamophobes."
The SPLC has its own detailed file on Gaffney, documenting his many anti-Muslim actions and conspiracy theories. For example, in 2011, after Gaffney was banned from participating in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a massive gathering of conservative activists and policy makers, Gaffney claimed he instead boycotted the event because the "Muslim Brotherhood" had infiltrated the ranks of the federal government. He also thinks Twitter is run by Sharia law, thinks Obama is a Muslim, and thinks the administration re-designed a Missile Defense Agency logo to appease Sharia standards.
In 2011, Gaffney wrote an op-ed for his think tank, Center for Security Policy, arguing in favor of a McCarthy-like, "Cold War-style effort to root out civilizational Jihad":
"What is needed is a new select committee modeled after the much-vilified, but ultimately vindicated, House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). ... So pervasive now is the [Muslim Brotherhood's] “civilization jihad” within the U.S. government and civil institutions that a serious, sustained and rigorous investigation of the phenomenon by the legislative branch is in order. To that end, we need to establish a new and improved counterpart to the Cold War-era’s HUAC and charge it with examining and rooting out anti-American – and anti-constitutional – activities that constitute an even more insidious peril than those pursued by communist Fifth Columnists fifty years ago."
On Tuesday, Cruz defended Gaffney on CNN, dodging questions about his advisor's extreme anti-Muslim statements by again retreating to the familiar embrace of "political correctness," claiming the media has subjected Gaffney to unfair criticism because he "speaks out against radical Islamic terrorism."
"Frank Gaffney is someone I respect," Cruz told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting Jihadism across the globe... and I appreciate his good counsel."
Cruz added three more advisers from Gaffney's anti-Muslim think tank, and hired Andrew C. McCarthy, another Sharia alarmist who actually admits to being an "Islamophobe" — which, as he described it, means "someone who takes seriously the things Muslim Brotherhood operatives say and the scriptures on which they rely." Also on Cruz's team of advisors is former Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who has said Islam shouldn't be protected under the First Amendment because Muslims who follow the Koran "are under an obligation to destroy our constitution." Boykin also once said Muslims idolize Satan. Over the summer, Cruz tabbed as his state chairman in Tennessee a man who had pushed a resolution opposing the state's governor for hiring a practicing Muslim.
It's pretty clear that Cruz is surrounding himself in an Islamophobic Snuggie, but just as much of the anti-Muslim sentiment oozing out of Cruz's campaign comes right from Cruz himself. After the Paris attacks in November, Cruz quickly said the U.S. should stop accepting refugees fleeing Syria — well, at least only the Muslim ones. According to Cruz, the Christian refugees were fine.
"There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror," Cruz said at the time. "We need to be working to provide a safe haven for those Christians who are being persecuted and facing genocide, and at the same time we shouldn't be letting terrorists into America. We can’t roll the dice with the safety of Americans and bring in people for whom there is an unacceptable risk that they could be jihadists coming here to kill Americans."
Cruz renewed his anti-immigration-for-Muslims stance after the Brussels bombing this week.
A month after Paris, Cruz said he would "carpet bomb ISIS." Even when Cruz was confronted with criticism informing him that to "carpet bomb" means indiscriminately targeting large areas, including civilians, Cruz did not change his stance. In February, a top U.S. General in Iraq was quick to condemn Cruz's carpet-bomb suggestion, saying the following at a Pentagon news conference:
“We’re the United States of America, and we have a set of guiding principles and those affect the way we as professional soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, conduct ourselves on the battlefield. So indiscriminate bombing, where we don’t care if we’re killing innocents or combatants, is just inconsistent with our values. And it’s what the Russians have been accused of doing in parts of northwest Syria. Right now we have the moral high ground, and I think that’s where we need to stay.”
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Cruz appears to be perfectly content staying at his current moral elevation. In each of these cases, Cruz refused to apologize or walk back his anti-Muslim comments. In fact, in a second statement attempting to "clarify" his recent comments about heavily policing Muslim neighborhoods in America, the Cruz campaign seemed to only ramp up the Islamophobia from his first take:
By applauding the New York Police Department's defunct Muslim spying program, which yielded exactly zero leads or terrorism investigations in its six years of existing and is widely reported to have been illegal anyway, Cruz appears to be advocating for the mass surveillance and targeting of innocent American Muslims. Taken together with his assembled team of advisers, anti-Muslim immigration stance, and approval of indiscriminately bombing Muslim nations, Cruz has provided a bare outline for his strategy to stop "radicalization" before it starts by separating Muslims from the rest of society, and stripping them of both constitutional and human rights. As has been pretty consistently reported, this level of religious persecution is often considered the true underlying cause of "radicalization."
It's important to note that Cruz's anti-Muslim ideas are not relayed through firm, well-thought out policy proposals. Rather, Cruz's Islamophobic rhetoric often comes in immediate gut reactions to tragic terrorist attacks, or during off-the-cuff responses to reporters' questions.
When Cruz says he wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., to indiscriminately bomb parts of the Middle East, to subject all American Muslims to disproportionate policing, he appears to be speaking directly from his heart — a place where there is clearly no room for Muslims.