Friday, September 18, 2015

Trump Bigotry Belies Past

Trump's father, Fred
Born in Germany, Frederick Christ Trump arrived in North America in 1885.  He didn’t start his life in this country, but opened a hotel in Bennett, British Columbia to host gold miners on their way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush. 

His son, who bore the same name, was born in New York in 1905, an American because he was born in this country of transplanted Canadian citizens.

Now, Donald Trump, their descendant and a Republican president, thinks something should be done about immigrants who come to this country to give birth – as his grandparents did – and Muslims, who have been in this country for at least 100 years before his grandfather took the boat across the Atlantic.

It would all be ironic if Trump was not being taken seriously.

His sinister views became evident during a pre-election rally in New Hampshire, when a member of the audience was allowed to say without being corrected that “we have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims. Our current president is one. We know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

That question was once asked in Germany, about Jews.  It was also asked in France, about Protestant Huguenots, about Christians in pagan Rome, and, indeed, about any group considered outside the larger culture.

Trump ignored the lies about President Obama.  In a way, that’s understandable.  Trump was long an active “birther,” who, despite all evidence to the contrary, insists Obama wasn’t born in this country.  However, Trump’s silence on the question of Obama’s religion says far more.

Just as significantly, his response to the question was not to chastise, but to agree.  Later, Trump tweeted the following to emphasize his bigotry: "Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake."

Really?  From whom?  Muslims.  There are an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslims in this country, less than 1 percent of the population, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study.  There are more Mormons (1.6 percent); atheists (3.1) and agnostics (4), none of whom follow standard Christian theology, than followers of Islam. 

Since 2001, the year when Pakistani and Saudi Muslim terrorists attacked this country, there have been 15 documented cases of Islamic terrorist acts in the United States.  The numbers are extremely low for one reason:  every statistical study comparing religion to crime has determined that "religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior."  Islamic members of society tend to be very religious. 

“An individual with high religious saliency (i.e. expressing the high importance of religion in their life) is less likely to be associated with criminal activities; similarly, an individual who regularly attends religious services or is highly involved in them will be less involved in criminality …” one report found.
Hate crime victim

In contrast, hate crimes against Muslims have jumped dramatically and now represent 13 to 14 percent of all such crimes, according to FBI statistics.  Muslims have endured “nearly 100 anti-Islam hate crimes each year from 2011 to 2013,” the report said.

That is happening although Muslims have lived peacefully in this country for centuries.  In fact, the first Muslim sailors could have arrived on these shores in 1178 when Chinese records show that Muslims sailed to a land they called Mu-Lan-Pi, which we know as America.

Muslim Chinese admiral Zhez He in 1421
Muslims from Africa were documented in Mexico in 1312 en route to the Mississippi River.  Slaves from Africa, many of who were Muslim, first arrived in 1513, brought by the Spanish to work in gold and silver mines throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Muslims are known to have sailed to America prior to Columbus.  

 In 1539, Estevanico of Azamor, a Muslim from Morocco, landed in Florida and eventually crossed the entire continent before being saved by Spaniards in Mexico.

At least some Muslims came here in the early 1500s after being expelled by the Spaniards about 15 years after the Catholic monarchs had evicted its Jewish population.
Muslim slave Omar ibn Saud in North Carolina

Slaves from Spanish-controlled lands arrived in Virginia in 1619, kicking of more than 200 years of slavery in this country.  At estimated 10 percent of the Africans sent here were Muslim, many of whom were forcefully converted to Christianity.

By 1790, Muslims (then called Moors) were identified in the state of South Carolina and the territory of Florida.  Along with Germans like Trump’s grandfather, in the 1880s, a large contingent of Muslims settled in this country from such lands as the Ottoman Empire, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  Many of those who followed would eventually find work with the Ford Motor Company in Michigan because they were willing to endure the dangerous and heated conditions inside early assembly plants.

Michigan is still home to the largest number of Muslims in this country.

Since 1952, this country has greeted Muslim refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt along with Muslims from Southeast Asia and Africa.
Italian Catholic immigrants from the 1890s

Like Frederick Christ Trump, Muslim immigrants in any era have been seeking a better life.  Also, like Donald Trump's grandfather, they were welcomed by the Statue of Liberty and its promise of hope for the “…tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

They are no different than Jews from Russia, Catholics from Italy and Ireland, Buddhists from India or Hindus from Pakistan.  

Trump’s blind appeal to bigotry was predicted in a 1935 book by Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis.  Titled It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis' book described what happened when a hate-filled demagogue is elected president.  In the book, President Windrip “outlaws dissent, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, and trains and arms a paramilitary force … to enforce the policies.”  He also cuts women's and minority rights.

Windrip initially succeeds because a majority of Americans think that such steps are necessary to rebuilt American superiority.  Eventually, the country descends into civil war when Windrip’s promises fail to live up to reality.

Sound familiar? Have you looked at the polls lately?

Frederick Christ Trump, the immigrant from Germany, would not have been appalled by his grandson’s demagoguery. Her was an avowed anti-Semite.  The rest of us, however, should be disgusted by the avalanche of hate spewing from Donald Trump and bigotry his campaign has unleashed.

It not only can happen here.  It apparently is.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at


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