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As Trump’s Rallies Become “Racism Summits,” Linda Sarsour & Mohamed Elibiary Debate Islamophobia

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In the final debate before Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri, the four remaining Republican candidates sparred on Thursday in a CNN debate in Miami. Donald Trump defended his remark that “Islam hates us” and brushed aside criticism that his rallies were becoming violent. We hold a debate between Mohamed Elibiary, a Republican Muslim, and Linda Sarsour, co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the final debate before Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri, the four remaining Republican candidates sparred on Thursday night in a CNN debate in Miami. They discussed trade policy, immigration, Cuba, Israel and Palestine and more. Front-runner Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims from the United States, came under criticism for his most recent comments about Muslims. This is CNN moderator Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER: Last night, you told CNN, quote, “Islam hates us.” Did you mean all 1.6 billion Muslims?

DONALD TRUMP: I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them.

JAKE TAPPER: Do you want to clarify the comment at all?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, you know, I’ve been watching the debate today, and they’re talking about radical Islamic terrorism or radical Islam. But I will tell you, there’s something going on that maybe you don’t know about and maybe a lot of other people don’t know about, but there’s tremendous hatred. And I will stick with exactly what I said to Anderson Cooper.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Rubio, your supporter, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, said in response to Mr. Trump’s comment last night—I’m sorry, Senator Jeff Flake, I apologize—your supporter, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, said in response to that comment, “Republicans are better than this.” Do you agree?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, let me say, I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says, because he says what people wish they could say. The problem is, presidents can’t just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world.

DONALD TRUMP: Marco talks about consequences. Well, we’ve had a lot of consequences, including airplanes flying into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and could have been the White House. There have been a lot of problems. Now you can say what you want, and you can be politically correct if you want. I don’t want to be so politically correct. I like to solve problems. We have a serious, serious problem of hate.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about last night’s Republican debate in the 2016 presidential race, we’re joined by two guests. From Dallas, Mohamed Elibiary is with us, a homeland security expert who has advised the U.S. government on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism issues. He also identifies as a “proud Texas Muslim Republican” who’s been involved with the GOP for over 20 years. And here in New York, we’re joined by Linda Sarsour, director of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change, and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York.

Linda Sarsour, why don’t you respond to what Donald Trump said yesterday and repeated the day before, as well?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, obviously, his commentary has been consistent since he started running for president. I mean, it’s absurd and ridiculous. “Islam hates us.” Who is Islam, and who’s the “us” that he’s talking about? He disregards us as American Muslims. We’re about 7 million who live in this country. He’s talking about a religion that is an ideology, not a human being who has feelings. I mean, this is really ridiculous that the GOP is actually not speaking up against him. Where is the chairman of the Republican Party? This is not a reality television show. These are people that are trying to be the next president of the United States, and we are outraged as a Muslim community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mohamed Elibiary, your response to some of the comments of Trump in the last—in the last debate?

MOHAMED ELIBIARY: Well, I would—good morning, first of all. I personally, obviously, feel just as bothered by Trump’s comments as any other individual, including Linda, across the political aisle. But this is kind of a—a phase in the nomination process that I don’t think the whole Republican Party should, frankly, be held responsible for. Trump is trying to appeal to a certain demographic in the electoral base, and that’s the base that’s—frankly, feels more than it understands. And he’s using imprecise language, on purpose.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are you supporting of the Republican candidates?

MOHAMED ELIBIARY: So I endorsed Jeb Bush back in 2014, stayed with him about two years and then switched to Marco Rubio about three months ago. And that’s who I voted for during the Texas primary.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to Linda Sarsour saying that the head of the GOP should be condemning what Donald Trump says about Muslims?

MOHAMED ELIBIARY: Well, I understand the condemnation thing, a technique. Sometimes it’s more effective than others. As an American Muslim, I want effectiveness more than, frankly, just making me feel comfortable. And right now if Reince Priebus was to come out and just condemn, condemn, condemn every silly statement that has come out of whether Trump or other candidates, frankly, over the past eight months, it would actually end up empowering those individuals in the party and weakening the more moderate and balanced and more sophisticated, nuanced voices.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Linda, I wanted to ask you, the Trump supporters—I know you’ve expressed comments that you’re more afraid of his supporters than you are of some of his statements. What is your sense of what is happening in terms of the anger and the fury that he’s been able to marshal at many of his rallies?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, you’re watching people cheer on an American fascist. I mean, he has asked people to pledge to him. I mean, we’ve seen this all publicly. His rallies, I don’t think they’re rallies; I think they’re racism summits. I mean, we had immigrant rights activists beat. We’ve seen a black woman shoved aggressively and assaulted. We’ve watched people being removed just for the virtue of who they are, just for peacefully expressing their freedom of speech.

And the irony about what Mohamed, who actually is a colleague of mine and definitely a member of my community, is—the irony around the condemnation is that when something happens and Muslims do it, everybody wants the Muslims to condemn it. Everyone’s calling on the moderate Muslims—”Where are the moderate Muslims?”—when the Muslims perpetrate violence or are saying outrageous things. But here we are. We have a person calling for shooting Muslims with bullets soaked in pig’s blood. He’s telling the whole American public that Islam hates us all. He’s advocating a banning of Muslims and building walls and all these outrageous things. And no one seems—it’s acceptable, and no one seems to be up in arms about it. His supporters are coming out in the droves, in the thousands. They’re going to the polls. And you know what? We might come out in November with next president of the United States is Donald Trump, so the Republican Party has to understand that he could be the next president.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the debate on this—on this issue of violence. CNN’s Jake Tapper, who was the moderator, asked Trump about the growing number of reports of violence at his campaign rallies.

JAKE TAPPER: Earlier today, a man was arrested and charged with assault after sucker-punching a protester in the face at your rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This is hardly the first incident of violence breaking out at one of your rallies. … Do you believe that you’ve done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged?

DONALD TRUMP: I hope not. I truly hope not. I will say this. We have 25-30,000 people. You’ve seen it yourself. People come with tremendous passion and love for the country. And when they see protest, in some cases—you know, you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen. I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger. They love this country. They don’t like seeing bad trade deals. They don’t like seeing higher taxes. They don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs, where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know—I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects. But I certainly do not condone that at all, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER: Some of your critics point to quotes that you’ve made at these debates—at these rallies, including February 23rd, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” referring to a protester; February 27th, “In the good ol’ days, they’d have ripped him out of that seat so fast”; February 1st, “Knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously, OK, just knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”

DONALD TRUMP: We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They have done bad things. They are swinging. They are really dangerous. And they get in there, and they start hitting people. And we had a couple big, strong, powerful guys doing damage to people, not only the loudness—the loudness I don’t mind—but doing serious damage. And if they’ve—going to be taken out, I—to be honest, I mean, we have to run something.

AMY GOODMAN: And as we reported in headlines, that white Donald Trump supporter who punched an African-American protester in the North Carolina rally, saying next time he might kill him. And this is video clip of the footage of the 26-year-old protester, Rakeem Jones, being escorted out. Then he’s sucker-punched by this protester. And when the protester was interviewed by Inside Edition afterwards, the attacker, John McGraw—yeah, this is what he said.

REPORTER: Did you like the event?

JOHN McGRAW: You bet I liked it.

REPORTER: Yeah? What did you like about it?

JOHN McGRAW: Knocking hell out of that big mouth. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American.

REPORTER: So he deserved it?

JOHN McGRAW: Every bit of it.

REPORTER: What was that?

JOHN McGRAW: Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he was arrested the next day. But, Mohamed Elibiary, on this same issue of whether the Republican Party, the head of the Republican Party, should condemn this kind of violence? I mean, the fact of the matter is, Reince Priebus did address the audience last night before the major debate.

MOHAMED ELIBIARY: I was a little disappointed that Reince didn’t include at least one sentence about the Republican Party being a big tent party, which would have been a good signal to put out there to not only the candidates but also the audience, in the debate and those watching on TV.

Amy, I would like to kind of explain something here. I personally see this issue through a—you know, my experience working counterradicalization issues for the past dozen years or so is that I see the Trump base as a politically radicalized—not a violently radicalized, but a politically radicalized—which means they’re toward the extreme on the political spectrum. And the more you move towards the edges of the political spectrum, the more that you’re going to end up finding the people are more emotionally charged, and they’re not really thinking rationally, they’re not civil, they’re not looking to compromise, they’re extremely frustrated—all of those attributes.

Now, I saw that segment as existing and, more than eight months ago, was one of the—a very early vocal critic of Trump, from the first day he announced, because I was encouraging the Jeb Bushes of the party to come out and challenge him from day one, because I saw him as a businessman. He looks at this as a marketplace that he can capitalize on. So, I don’t look at Trump and say he created this constituency. I saw that it existed, with all its hate and xenophobia and anger. But he’s coming to lead it.

And, you know, ideally, I would have preferred for this constituency to not find a leader and to fragment and have to support multiple leaders, multiple candidates, like the Ted Cruz and others, and basically fragment even further. That would have been better for us in the political system. But as a consequence of the party elders making the miscalculation that he was going to flame out, he’s now kind of solidified that base and is going to move, most likely, towards accepting the nomination in a few months.

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