President Barack Obama has explained that he does not want to legitimize terrorists by saying they speak for the billions of peaceful Muslims around the world. | AP Photo
President Barack Obama said there are “dangers” to Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims on Wednesday, saying it represented a “slippery slope.”
Actually, Obama denied that he was referring specifically to Trump during a CNN town hall for service members at Fort Lee, Virginia. But he spoke about the risks involved when people “aspiring to become president get loose with this language.”
Those dangers, Obama said, “you can see in some of the language that we use — in talking about Muslim-Americans here and the notion that somehow we’d start having religious tests in who can come in the country and who’s investigated and whether the Bill of Rights applies to them in the same way.”
Trump has at times proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, a notion that Obama has frequently attacked as anathema to American values. More recently, Trump has said he would impose “extreme vetting” and an ideological test for people who want to enter the United States, as well as ban entry for people from certain states affected by terrorism.
When asked by CNN host Jake Tapper whether he was referring to Trump, Obama demurred.
“It’s not unique to the Republican nominee,” Obama said. “And, again, I’m trying to be careful. We’re on a military base. I don’t want to insert partisan politics into this.”
Obama continued, “I think that there have been a number of public figures where you start hearing commentary that is dangerous because what it starts doing is it starts dividing us up as Americans.”
The president then noted that at Arlington National Cemetery, graves of fallen soldiers have crosses, Stars of David and crescents. That reference was reminiscent of the Khan family, who spoke about their Muslim son while excoriating Trump at the Democratic National Convention in July. Trump responded by going after the Gold Star family.
Obama’s comments were something of a pivot away from the central question of another Gold Star mother at the town hall meeting. Her 19-year-old son died in Baghdad in 2007, and she asked Obama why he refused to use the term “Islamic terrorist.” It’s a criticism Trump and other Republicans have lobbed at the president as well.
Obama told her the issue is “sort of manufactured” because he has acknowleged that groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL have “perverted and distorted” Islam.
Obama has explained that he does not want to legitimize terrorists by saying they speak for the billions of peaceful Muslims around the world. However, he adopted a novel, more personal example to illustrate his point.
“If you had an organization that was going around killing and blowing people up and said we’re on the vanguard of Christianity,” Obama said, “as a Christian, I’m not going to let them claim my religion and say you’re killing for Christ. I would say that’s ridiculous. That’s not what my religion stands for. Call these folks what they are, which is killers and terrorists.”