Robb: Trump has a point about the US and Islam

Robert Robb
Robert Robb

As usual, Donald Trump put it less than precisely. But he has a point about the United States and Islam.

The usual formulation in this country is that the problem isn’t Islam or most Muslims. It’s a small fringe element that distort and betray their religion by committing terrorist acts against innocents.

It may not be true, as Trump put it, that Islam hates us. But the problem is much bigger than a militant fringe.

Anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East, is rampant. Condemnation of the United States and its values is common fare in mainstream mosques throughout the region.

During the debate, Ted Cruz unwittingly made Trump’s point in attempting to refute it. We need to support Muslim leaders, such as Egypt’s Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who are denouncing Islamic terrorism and trying to stomp it out, according to Cruz.

Sisi is an authoritarian strongman. He is riding roughshod over the rule of law and due process to suppress opposition. Some of that opposition is militant jihadists. But some of it is also Islamists who accept democratic governance and secular liberals who oppose rule by a military junta. Sisi suppresses them all.

And he is two-faced about the United States. He’s happy to take our military aid and present himself as an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. But state-controlled media in Egypt is full of anti-American fulminations and wild conspiracy theories about us.

There’s quite a leap from anti-American sentiment to committing a terrorist act. But the anti-American venom that pervades the region makes it more likely that more adherents will make that leap.

The United States is a secular, pluralistic polity. We shouldn’t betray those values in the effort to protect the country against terrorism.

But we also shouldn’t blind ourselves to the world as it is, particularly as it relates to security threats. And with respect to the threat of Islamic terrorism, the problem is bigger than just a militant fringe.

Robert Robb has been an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic since 1999, and a participant in and observer of Arizona government and politics for nearly four decades.