Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall meeting at the Ben Johnson Arena on the Wofford College campus,  Nov. 20, 2015, in Spartanburg,  S.C.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall meeting at the Ben Johnson Arena on the Wofford College campus, Nov. 20, 2015, in Spartanburg, S.C.

WASHINGTON - Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump is coming under criticism for saying Thursday he would "absolutely" implement a database of American Muslims, and that he would not rule out giving them special identification cards that note their religion.  In the wake of last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Trump has sharpened his rhetoric, calling for tougher security measures to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

At a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, Thursday evening, an NBC news reporter pressed Trump on whether all Muslims in the United States would be forced to register.  Trump answered: “They have to be.”  The reporter asked Trump how such a system of registering U.S. Muslims would be carried out and where people would register.  Trump answered:  “Different places. You sign up at different places.  But it’s all about management.  Our country has no management.”

Earlier in the week, Trump had suggested it might be necessary to close down mosques in the United States and to increase surveillance of Muslims.  In an interview with Yahoo News, Trump said: “We are going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”  Trump argues the first obligation of the president is to protect the American people, and in the past has rejected criticism of provocative comments as weakness or political correctness.

On Friday, Trump attempted to defend his comments, tweeting that he did not suggest the idea of a Muslim database, but had been asked about it by a reporter.

Other Presidential Candidates Reject Trump’s Comments

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton was quick to respond to Trump’s comments about registering Muslim Americans in a Twitter post, writing:  “This is shocking rhetoric.  It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country.”

Three other Republican presidential candidates have also called Trump out for his comments.  Speaking on CNBC, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called the comments “abhorrent." He said, "You talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people – that is just wrong.”

Republican candidate and Senator Ted Cruz has been careful to avoid criticizing Trump, but he also distanced himself from the remarks.  Cruz told reporters  "I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s, but I am not a fan of government registries of American citizens.” He added "the First Amendment protects religious liberty.  I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty.”

Republican candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich put out a statement saying:  "The idea that someone would have to register with the federal government because of their religion strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.”

Republican Candidate Ben Carson Also Criticized

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speak
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Nov. 19, 2015, in Mobile, Alabama.

Republican candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson has also come under criticism for remarks about Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq.  While talking about terrorists posing as Syrian refugees Thursday in Alabama, Carson suggested it is prudent to take precautions against “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”  On Friday, Carson blamed the news media for misinterpreting his remarks.

Mike Ghouse, Executive Director of the American Muslim Institution, says he has met with Carson and offered to give him firsthand information on Muslims.

His group was one of several that Friday invited people of all faiths to attend a rally against Islamic State terrorism on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Ghouse told VOA that he extends this offer to all the presidential candidates, adding that anyone who leads the country would be the president of all Americans, and should seek to build friendships with Muslims and everyone.

A number of Muslim and other religious groups have denounced both Trump’s and Carson's comments. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., condemned both candidates Friday for what it termed “Islamophobic and unconstitutional” comments targeting American Muslims and Syrian refugees.

Trump’s and Carson’s comments came on the same day the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would require top U.S. national security officials to certify that each refugee from Iraq and Syria is not a threat to national security.  It is not clear whether the Senate will take up the measure, and the White House said President Barack Obama would veto it. 

Leading Democrats in the Senate said they intend to focus on the threat posed by potential terrorists exploiting the U.S. visa waiver program to enter the country.

Rep. Andre Carson Fears Backlash

In an interview earlier this week with VOA, Muslim American Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana said he is concerned about a backlash against Muslim Americans after the Paris attacks.  Carson said:  “I sense a backlash against Muslims, against Hindus, against Sikhs, unfortunately against Catholic nuns.”  Carson explained that any woman who covers her head might be mistaken for a Muslim terrorist.

Congressman Carson also said politicians should be careful with their rhetoric.  “If you really consider yourself to be a leader, to discriminate against anyone makes you unworthy, in my mind, of being the president of the United States.”