At a gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this past weekend, GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz reiterated statements he had published on his campaign website in the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, saying that Muslim Syrian refugees ought to be banned from entering foreign countries. Cruz emphasized that Christian refugees should be allowed in, adding that there was "no meaningful risk" of the Christian refugees committing acts of terror. In response, during a news conference on Monday at the G20 summit in Turkey, President Obama slammed Cruz, saying that admitting only Christian refugees and while placing others under a microscope was "shameful."
"When I hear folks say that, 'Well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims,' when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful," said Obama, speaking to reporters. "That's not American — that's not who we are."
Obama was referring to Cruz's insistence that the need to screen refugees based on religious affiliation was vital. "If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation," Cruz insisted to reporters on Sunday. "But it is precisely the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize that or ask those questions that makes them so unable to fight this enemy, because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this."
The president's comments also alluded to statements made by 2016 Republican candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who in an interview with CNN's State of the Union on Sunday said that U.S. assistance to Syrian refugees should focus "on the Christians that are being slaughtered."
Anti-Islamic backlash following mass terrorist attacks is not uncommon. In 2006, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that, in the five years following 9/11, negative feelings toward Muslims had risen significantly. According to the survey, 58 percent of Americans at the time felt Islam had "more violent" followers than any other religion; 46 percent said they had "unfavorable" attitudes toward Islam in general, up 22 percent since January 2002. Even with calls from then President Bush to separate extremism from mainstream Islam in the days following the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, peaceful admonitions in the public sphere only lasted so long.
"From the president on down there was a very strong message from Washington that this was not representative of Islam," said Carroll Dougherty of the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press, in an interview with The Guardian in March 2006. "In the intervening years there has been an absence of this sort of positive message."
While a slew of horrifying terrorist incidents since that time has swayed public opinion only slightly according to 2001 Gallup poll numbers, with the rise of fringe political movements such as the Tea Party and Congress' House Freedom Caucus, political sentiment itself has shifted significantly. After last week's attacks in Paris, for example, newly appointed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) came under rapid criticism from several right-wing news outlets as well as former Arkansas governor and 2016 candidate Mike Huckabee for not immediately promising to block incoming Syrian refugees.
"[Speaker Ryan] needs to make it clear that if the President won't stand to protect America from wholesale open borders, then Republicans will," Huckabee wrote in a statement on his official Twitter account. "If Ryan will not lead and reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East without assurances that we can separate refugees from terrorists, then Speaker Ryan needs to step down today and let someone else lead."
Outside of the United States, knee-jerk reactions to the flood of Syrian refugees across European countries in previous months have not been so restrained. Following a sudden influx of refugees in September, Hungary effectively sealed off its borders completely, citing a threat to "Christian values."
"Right to human dignity and security are basic rights, but neither the German nor the Hungarian way of life is a basic right of all people on the Earth," Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said at a gathering of conservative parties in October. He lamented that the media had been portraying the majority of the refugees as women and children when "70 percent" of them were young men that "looked like an army." Orbán added, "We cannot avoid [speaking] about the quality of our democracies."
Outcry from across the continent was swift. "How could Europeans think they could choose which refugees they want?" said Basak Kale, professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, which at the time was playing host to some 2.5 million Syrian refugees, in an interview with Al-Monitor. "There is no such option under the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees ... yet EU countries want to 'pick' refugees like it's a beauty pageant."
Given that the majority of Syrian refugees do not pose a threat to western or "Christian" ideals — there are 12 million of them and, as of Monday, only one of the Paris attackers had been identified as a Syrian national — statements such as those made by Orbán and, more recently, Cruz, sound especially out of touch.
In fact, while the majority of headline-grabbing tragedies over the past few years have been the result of Islamist extremism, there have still been plenty of Christian extremist threats as well, from the Lord's Resistance Army in Sudan, which spent much of last summer looting, violently attacking, and abducting hostages across several Central and East African nations, to machete-wielding "Christian vigilantes" in the Central African Republic who drove tens of thousands of Muslims from their homes in February last year.
Despite all of this, there are people like Fox News' Eric Bolling who maintain rather ignorantly that Christian violence simply does not exist. "Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone," Bolling claimed in a Fox Business Cashin' In segment back in February. "And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion — well that number would be zero."
Of course, no Christian should ever be connected to the acts of groups like the LRA or other such hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. But whatever politicians, pundits, and analysts like to think, there is extremism and violence in all corners of religion. Banning one group for the actions of a few is simply illogical.