A key foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Walid Phares, has reportedly been dispatched to Muslim communities around the nation to rally support for the sole presidential candidate to explicitly promise to ban their coreligionists from entering the country.
Like most of Trump’s heavy-handed approaches to dealing with minorities, it’s unclear how this latest overture will significantly change the fortunes of the Republican Party among American Muslims.
“These people know what they want – they’re concerned about the well-being of their communities and believe that Trump has the right economic and social agenda,” Phares said in an interview with The Hill. “But they’re trying to get a handle on how he’ll deal with the Middle East.”
However, according to polls performed by the Council on American Islamic Relations, how Trump, or any presidential candidate, handles the Middle East ranks low on the list of issues that concern American Muslims. “Foreign affairs issues” — which would presumably include “how he’ll deal with the Middle East” — was the most important issue for just 6 percent of poll respondents. Islamophobia, which Trump has fanned, and the economy, which he would surely drive into the ground with his proposed policies, which were the biggest concerns to Muslim voters.
Equally as important, the majority of American Muslims aren’t from the Middle East, according to a study done by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Only 18 percent of respondents identified as Arab. Meanwhile, 25 percent described themselves as Asian and 24 percent described themselves as black.
But lumping all Muslims together as Middle Easterners is to be expected from Phares. He has repeatedly appeared on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and other conservative media outlets as a “terrorism expert,” though he has close ties with several known Islamophobes who espouse simplistic views and circulate out-of-context readings of the Quran as proof that Islam is fundamentally at odds with the West.
His own rhetoric shows that such company isn’t an accident. “Jihadists within the West pose as civil rights advocates, interested solely in the ‘rights’ of their immigrant communities,” he claimed in his book Future Jihad, effectively writing off any Muslim civic group as a potential front for religious extremists. But that doesn’t mean he won’t attempt to downplay the extremism of the side he represents.
“Right now the ban is just a few sentences in a foreign policy announcement and a tweet, it’s not like he’s written books or published articles or delivered lectures on this,” he said, attempting to assuage fears that Trump’s ban wouldn’t be that bad. “He’ll continue to add context and distinction to his position as he gets new information.” It’s unclear what new information would lead to Trump changing any policy based on the premise that “Islam hates us.”
Even back in 2011, when Mitt Romney first brought on Phares to advise him in his presidential run, numerous foreign policy experts were confused as to why Romney even hired him, other than to engage in dog-whistle politics. “I’m more confused than anything else, given what I know about the types of initiatives Phares has been involved in,” said Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, to New Republic. “When you have a lot of credible scholars and practitioners within the Republican Party, why would you select as co-chair of your policy committee someone who is widely viewed as an extremist?”
At the same time, As’ad Abu Khalil, a well-known Lebanese American professor and author of the Angry Arab blog, recorded any mention of Phares in Lebanese newspapers during the Lebanese Civil War. He discovered that Phares, who generally tries to avoid discussion of his past, was a “[m]ember of the Command Council of the Lebanese Forces, [and] head of the Lebanese Immigration Apparatus in the Lebanese Forces,” a Lebanese Christian militia that believed in the creation of a Christian Arab homeland in Lebanon, partially through the ethnic cleansing of Muslim enclaves in Christian majority areas. Phares was also a close advisor of its current leader, Samir Geagea, the only militia leader to be imprisoned for crimes committed during the civil war.
Perhaps Trump thought that sending a man with an obviously Arab-sounding name would dupe Muslim voters into thinking that he had reneged on his promises to bar Muslims from entering the country and registering the ones who remained. After all, Trump failed twice in a single interview to push back against the notion that Phares was a Muslim. Perhaps he was hoping they would do the same.
Photo: YouTube user Christian Solidarity International USA.