Just a few days after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump issued a call to ban Muslims from entering the country, the only two Muslims in Congress slammed the GOP presidential field for what they view as equally anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“Our Republican friends have a responsibility to dial down the hatred," said Rep. André Carson, D-Ind., who mentioned that he received a death threat over the weekend that he attributes to an increasingly "toxic" climate toward those who share his faith. Speaking along with him on a call organized by the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said "this is not a Trump problem alone," and attempted to tie the controversy to other candidates who have made their own comments about Muslims.
Elilson pointed to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said Christian refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East should be prioritized for resettlement into the United States, and Ben Carson, who said he would not be comfortable with a Muslim as president.
"We understand the fear," he said, adding that people who share his faith have their own concerns about individuals who carry out acts of terrorism. "The Muslim community in the U.S. — we’re Americans and we fear these terrorists like anybody else."
Carson said his most recent death threat stood out the most, "given the toxicity in the environment," and the "Islamophobia" he believes comments like Trump's spur. A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Even before Trump's recent policy proposal, Democrats had begun to raise concerns about the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, using anti-Muslim rhetoric by American politicians as a recruiting tool.
President Barack Obama, during an address to the nation on Sunday evening, said, "we cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam," a concern that was echoed by the two lawmakers Thursday.
Most other Republican candidates, from those in the presidential race down to congressional leaders, have distanced themselves from Trump's call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
And others have downplayed concerns that rhetoric might be fueling the growth of terrorist groups.
“These people have the capacity to recruit people on their ideology,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Wednesday. “It’s a mistake to assume it’s anything we do.”
The DNC’s call came a day after Obama appeared to take a swipe at the Republican front-runner during a event in the Capitol's Emancipation Hall marking the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
While he praised efforts of previous generations to right discrimination, Obama said today’s Americans must “remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others, regardless of what they look like, or where they come from, or what their last name is or what faith they practice.”