Following yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, the United States presidential candidates all released statements denouncing the violence, offering condolences to the people of Belgium, and taking the opportunity to briefly lay out their counterterrorism plans. Gov. John Kasich, Sec. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote clearly and reasonably. Donald Trump responded as Trump always does with a mixture of demagoguery and self-aggrandizement. While his positions are not necessarily unforeseen and novel, we should still be surprised by their xenophobia and utter lack of compassion.
The most shocking response came from Sen. Ted Cruz, who stated, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Reporters noted in the brevity of this statement Cruz didn’t offer many details. His campaign has since doubled-down saying his call is no different than targeting other things like, “drugs, gangs, human trafficking, and organized crime.” Read those statements again. Cruz and his campaign have likened being Muslim to engaging in criminal activity. For a candidate to call for law enforcement to secure Muslim neighborhoods while making religious liberty one of his core issues is hypocrisy. Cruz seems to care for religious liberty so long as one shares his views of Christianity. Further, Washington Post Fact Checker found Cruz’s statements about the effectiveness of NYPD’s program spying on Muslims almost entirely wrong. The program didn’t yield information that led to a single case. It only created distrust between Muslim communities and the police. Cruz’s response is the most shocking because he is supposed to be an alternative voice to Trump’s fear-mongering, yet on this matter and others, little daylight exists between their positions or rhetoric.
Cruz decides to meet a truly frightening event in Brussels with even more fear. This is a natural human reaction and Cruz gives voice to our baser instincts. Good leaders empathize with people’s thoughts. They name our fears. But they don’t lead us in a race to the bottom. While good leaders understand our fears, they call the people to something greater. A good leader would remind all Americans that our Muslim neighbors are as much a part of this nation as anyone else. A good leader would seek to strengthen ties with Muslim communities, to welcome them to the table, to listen to their voices, not isolate them under the peering eye of surveillance. Rather than fostering courage and neighborliness, Cruz wants non-Muslim Americans to let their fears overtake them and drive their decisions.
In his call yesterday to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods, Cruz betrays his commitments as an elected official and as a follower of Jesus. As a senator and candidate seeking to be president of all Americans, no matter their religious affiliation, Cruz ought to reject the very actions he is now calling for. He should seek ways to work with Muslims to root out extremism just as other community policing efforts have used the resources of communities to root out violence from their neighborhoods. More importantly, for someone who touts his Christian faith, Cruz should follow Jesus’s call to treat others as he wants to be treated. Our Christian history is one of governments persecuting us because of our faith. It is a deeply Christian practice to extend the same freedoms of conscience and religion we want to people of other faiths.
Contrast Cruz’s (and Trump’s) response to these attacks to Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Arizona) visit to a mosque in December 2015. In his address to his neighbors, Flake highlighted values and practices shared between his Mormon faith and their Muslim religion—reverence for the Almighty, acts of service, fasting. When much of the country was still reeling in fear from the ISIS-inspired attacks in San Bernardino, Flake displayed great leadership and fostered community. He extended welcome to his Muslim neighbors and received their welcome as they hosted him and his family at the mosque. In the face of fear, we can be like Flake and seek friendship as we denounce violence. We can strengthen civil and religious ties for the common good. Flake gave us a real picture of leadership and hope for a healed community. Cruz offers us only more division and more fear.