On Friday afternoon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to partially walk back comments he had made earlier saying all American Muslims would “have to be” required to to register in a database.
On Twitter, he said the idea didn’t originate with him. “I didn’t suggest a database-a reporter did,” he tweeted. “We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America.” He has yet to state clearly that he is opposed to the idea of a registry, however.
The controversy started after an interview with Yahoo News, after a reporter asked whether the country would need to “register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID.” Trump didn’t rule the idea out, responding, “Well, we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely.” Earlier in the interview, he had also said, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy.”
Later, an NBC News reporter followed up to ask him directly if he thought there should be a database tracking all American Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond a database,” he responded. After the reporter asked if he would implement the database, he responded, “Oh I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”
His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the New York Times that the questions were leading and there was “blaring music,” and that Trump was talking about a terrorist watch list, not a registry of Muslims.
It’s not the first time the candidate has caused a controversy with his remarks, only to claim he didn’t mean to say what he said. In September, when asked at a rally when the country would be able to “get rid of” Muslims, he responded, “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Later his campaign claimed he was only referring to looking into getting rid of Muslim training camps.
Of Republican presidential rival Carly Fiorina, he said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” but later claimed he was referring to her persona, not her looks. Of Fox News host Megyn Kelly he said her tough questions were because she was bleeding from “wherever,” but claimed it was not a reference to her being on period, but rather blood coming out of her “nose and/or ears.”
Trump’s latest remarks about a Muslim registry drew some condemnation from his fellow Republican candidates, with Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie ruling out the idea. But other ideas Trump has floated about Muslim Americans have been picked up by other candidates. On Monday, he said he would “strongly consider” shutting down mosques with suspected ties to terrorism and said the country would have to “watch and study” seemingly all mosques. Later in the week, Marco Rubio went further, saying he would consider not just shutting down mosques but “closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired.” The idea of shutting down all mosques in the country is really popular with many candidates’ supporters.
Yet these kinds of policy ideas, floated by presidential candidates, have consequences for Muslims. Very few acts of terrorism are religiously motivated and Muslims have committed a tiny share of them in the U.S. since 9/11. So far none of the attackers in Paris have been identified as Syrian refugees. But the response from many politicians has still been focused on Muslims and refugees. That kind of Islamophobia has serious effects on Muslims’ mental and physical health.