Recent terror attacks, especially the one at San Bernardino, have essentially changed the way the issue of terrorism is discussed in mainstream US media. The association between Muslims and terrorism is well established: ‘jihadist’ is just another word for terrorist now.

The attack by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, that killed 14 people, is a horrendous crime and a betrayal. Unlike the September 11 attacks, this attack was not carried out by an outsider. Farook was an American citizen by birth, his family was welcomed in this country decades ago. He had a college degree and a stable job. Tashfeen Malik was granted a fiancee visa without an issue. 

Another aspect that makes this attack different is that they did not do anything that would put them under the radar. Farook had no criminal or mental health history, so essentially no red flags. There is no indication that they were associated with any terrorist organization. According to some reports, it is plausible that the marriage was essentially an arrangement to carry out an attack.

All this information is troubling; this allows speculations, that any American Muslim man or a woman, can potentially ‘self-radicalize’ and carry out a terrorist attack. That is exactly what has allowed a bigot like Donald Trump, to put all American Muslims in one category, a group that needs to be feared.

Due to recent terror attacks, plus threats from ISIS, it is natural to feel concerned about national security. Now, add Donald Trump to the mix. The Republican front-runner suggested a “total and complete” halt on Muslims entering the US, “until the country's representatives can figure out what is going on”. He is being heavily criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike. Instead of backing down, he reiterated what he said, by claiming that if his proposal is not taken seriously there will be many more “World Trade Centers”. 

Mr Trump’s entire campaign is based on hate and division. After the Paris attacks, Muslims are the latest target of his vitriol. The current scenario presents a golden opportunity for a campaign that lacks substance; his strategy is to arouse fear in people and present himself as the messiah. He was quick to criticize President Obama’s Oval Office address on Sunday, after the terrorist attack at San Bernardino, California. President Obama asked Americans not to “turn against one another” and made it clear that he will not define the war against ISIL or terrorism as a war between America and Islam. In sharp contrast, and in an attempt to go a step ahead, Donald Trump released his statement against Muslims. He wants his supporters to know that he is not afraid to highlight the exact problem and he does not worry about being politically correct.

Mr Trump makes lofty claims about how he will make “America great again”. He has not proposed a detailed policy regarding a ‘ban on all Muslims’ just like he could not give a policy proposal for deporting 11 million illegal immigrants from the country. It does not matter if his policies can never be implemented because, quite simply put, they are either un-constitutional or illegal. What matters is that he has gathered enough support to be the Republican front-runner based on hate speech and bigotry. His comments are not shocking; he is living up to his image of an entertainer and a loud-mouth reality TV star. The troubling part is that his supporters are unable to dissect his arguments and see him for who he truly is.

Mr Trump claims that he will make the United States of America safer. Let’s make it very clear that his hate speech is not making the country any safer. We have a bully as the GOP front-runner, his deeply offensive remarks get attention and support. He has started an unprecedented hate campaign against Muslims, not only is it un-Presidential it is also un-American.  He will create fear and hatred even if he has to lie through his teeth, like he did about the ‘thousands and thousands’ of American Muslims celebrating the attacks on 9/11. When the Presidential candidate of the most powerful country in the world targets a faith, which millions of people in the country follow, it sends a negative message all over the world. How is this not extremism? If this rhetoric arouses people to bully or attack Muslims in America, it is not making the country any safer. It will only serve to disenfranchise a significant portion of its population, and that is exactly what ISIS and other terror organizations want.

In times like these, fact based arguments, unfortunately, do not have the same impact as exaggerated fear based propaganda. Mr Trump criticized the President’s Oval Office address as he once again pleaded for a ban on assault weapons, referring to the San Bernardino shooting, and also urged the Congress to pass laws that would prohibit people on a no-fly zone from buying weapons.  Are the mass campus shootings any less terrorizing? Are the lives lost  to gun violence any less valuable? If the intention is to make the country safer, gun violence should be higher up on the national security agenda, along with terrorism. Unfortunately, an analyst explaining that there have been over 350 shootings in the US this year and 99% of the attackers were non-Muslims, pales in comparison to loud rants of Donald Trump suggesting that this country is under attack by ‘radical Islam’. He has set a precedent and acceptability for discriminatory remarks against Muslims. The President of Liberty University, a college in Virginia, declared to a cheering group of students at the convocation, to acquire concealed weapon permits so that “we could end those Muslims”, while referring to the San Bernardino shooting. This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that Donald Trump is promoting, and it is not only offensive but also dangerous. To be fair, Donald Trump has been widely criticized publicly by many, including political leaders, people from his own party and government officials. Also, Muslims are not the only target of his hate speech.

The terrorists do not extend Muslims or Islam any favors; the Syrian refugees did not benefit from the Paris attacks and the Muslims living in the US are not any safer after the shooting at San Bernardino. There is no religious group or community that is harmed more by the atrocities committed by ISIS and its affiliates, than Muslims. Muslims are being reintroduced in the US through the lens of Islamophobia; they have been a part of American society for long enough that they need not be defined by the actions of any terrorist organization. American Muslims have to be a part of the solution; ostracizing and demonizing them is counter-productive.