As Donald Trump surges ahead in Iowa, taking the bellicose billionaire even closer to winning the Republican nomination, President Obama is busy trying to counter the GOP frontrunner’s message about “radical Islamic extremism.”
Trump has capitalized on events like the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino massacre. Those tragedies underscored the need to remain vigilant when it comes to immigration, a topic Trump has some rather strong opinions on. In a polarizing move, Trump officially called for a Muslim ban last month. No Muslims should be allowed to enter the country Trump said, until we can “figure out what’s going on.”
Needless to say, that message is starkly at odds with the President’s views, but as extreme as Trump’s position most certainly is, it’s resonated with large swaths of the American electorate.
In a bid to counter the growing backlash against the Muslim world, Obama will make his first visit to a mosque on Wednesday when the President will stop by the Islamic Society of Baltimore, described as "a sprawling community center in the city’s western suburbs that serves thousands of people with a place of worship, a housing complex and schools." Here's a fun image from the center where you can, should you choose to do so, jump rope:
The visit is an effort “to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life,” The White House said, in a statement.
“For years, Muslim Americans have lobbied him to visit a mosque, citing Islamophobia,” The Washington Post writes, adding that “the possibility of a mosque visit came up again a month ago, when several prominent Muslim Americans met with senior White House officials to discuss concerns about rising hostility toward people of their faith.”
Trump also wants to have close ties to mosques - by putting them under surveillance.
You can be sure that Obama's visit will end up in a GOP soundbite in the days and weeks ahead. Republicans have repeatedly criticized Obama for being shy about equating Islam with terror. To be sure, not every Muslim is a terrorist and indeed many of the mass shootings perpetrated on American soil have had no ties to Islam whatsoever. Still, it's certainly difficult to overlook the fact that people are killing each other by the thousands every day in the name of Islam and for many Americans, the nuances don't matter. They just want to feel safe.
As WaPo goes on to note, the trip is also likely to reinforce the notion - still held by nearly a third of the population - that Obama is a "secret Muslim."
"A segment of Obama’s critics have said since he took office that he is a Muslim pretending to be Christian, and that he plays down the religious aspect of Muslim extremism," WaPo says. "Recent polls show that 29 percent of Americans and nearly 45 percent of Republicans think he is a Muslim."
Of course America's "Muslim" President probably isn't too concerned about the optics around the visit. He's now a lame duck. The question, however, is whether the GOP - and especially Donald Trump - will be able to point to the trip as evidence that America's leaders are more concerned with political correctness and religious tolerance than they are with securing the homeland.