If the Trump administration wants to reduce anxiety and fear, perhaps they ought to issue more definitive statements. Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did no one any favors with his comments on Meet the Press on Sunday when he said, while President-elect Donald Trump and his team were not planning to create a Muslim registry, they would not rule anything out.
“Look, I’m not going to rule out anything,” Mr. Priebus said. “We’re not going to have a registry based on a religion. But what I think what we’re trying to do is say that there are some people, certainly not all people… there are some people that are radicalized. And there are some people that have to be prevented from coming into this country.”
He added, “And Donald Trump’s position, President Trump’s position is consistent with bills in the House and the Senate that say the following: If you want to come from a place or an area around the world that harbors and trains terrorists, we have to temporarily suspend that operation until a better vetting system is put in place.”
Mr. Priebus pushed for a tougher screening for immigration, stating, “When a better vetting system is put in place then those radical folks, they’ll not be allowed in, but then others will be allowed in, but only until that is done. That’s what Gen. Michael Flynn believes and that’s what President Trump believes.”
Mr. Flynn, who was selected to the post of national security adviser, earlier this year denounced Islam as a “political ideology” that “hides behind” religion. He said in May that he supported a Trump campaign call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Carl Higbie, with ties to the Trump team, said last week that there were legal precedents for a Muslim registry. Many took this statement as referring to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Mr. Higbie backtracked on Thursday, stating that he was not referring to internment camps, but added that registration was not inherently troublesome.
“We use register like it’s a bad thing,” Mr. Higbie said. “You have to register your car. Most states, like Connecticut, my own, we have to register our guns. We have to register a ton of things… as long as it keeps America safe.”
Mr. Priebus backed off Mr. Flynn’s statement that “fear of Muslims is rational,” stating that the president-elect did not think that religious judgments should be categorical.
“He believes that no faith in and of itself should be judged as a whole,” Mr. Priebus said. “But there are some people in countries abroad that need to be prevented… there are some people that need to be prevented from coming into this country. So I think that’s where 99 percent of Americans are at.”
There are those who have suggested that the President-elect should be given the benefit of the doubt, but it seems only natural for Muslims and civil rights groups to view these developments with some alarm and trepidation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, issued a statement on Sunday calling the remarks by Mr. Priebus regarding “problematic” aspects of Islam and his refusal to rule out a “registry” for Muslims as “more examples of the Islamophobia exhibited by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.”
When asked on ABC about Trump’s appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and the general’s claim that “Islam is not a real religion, but a political ideology masked behind a religion,” Mr. Priebus said Mr. Flynn’s views are in line with those of the president-elect and added: “I mean, look, phrasing can always be done differently but clearly there are some aspects of that faith that are problematic.”
CAIR said it has called on “President-elect Trump not to appoint retired Flynn as his national security adviser because of his history of anti-Muslim comments and associations. Flynn was later appointed to that position, despite calling Islam a ‘cancer,’ claiming fear of Muslims is ‘rational’ and being a current member of the board of advisers for the nation’s most virulent anti-Muslim hate group, ACT for America.”
“Our nation is not served by the denigration of Islam or by the introduction of ineffective and discriminatory policies targeting Muslims,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw.
On Friday, CAIR expressed concern about a “troubling Islamophobic trend” in President-elect Donald Trump’s recent appointments and nominations, including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for the post of attorney general and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the CIA.
Given the current fears in many communities, the appointment of people who have expressed such viewpoints in the past is giving no comfort, and the failure of more reasonable people like Mr. Priebus to rule out the worst possibilities is likely to increase rather than decrease those fears.
—David M. Greenwald reporting