Donald Trump’s Muslim Registry: A Demand for Clarity and a Call for Pre-Emptive Civil Disobedience (Updated)

Nobody seems to know precisely what Donald Trump has said or wants in the way of compulsory registration of “Muslims” in the United States. This is what he said last year. This is where he is on the issue now. (Fixed a link that previously went to the wrong place. For an update, see below.*)

It’s all mud, and it’s all insane. It doesn’t much matter whether he intends to put all Muslim refugees on the list, or all committed Muslims on the list, or or all nominal or committed Muslims on the list, or everyone on the list who could be Muslim, or everyone who looks like a Muslim, or everyone who looks like he could be a Muslim, or everyone who was born a Muslim, or was born and raised a Muslim, or looks like he could have been born a Muslim, or is currently a declared atheist but could legitimately be suspected of undue nostalgia for having once been a Muslim…etc. The list can be extended ad nauseum. The problem is, it might well be extended ad nauseum. Trump’s explanations are incoherent and meaningless enough to require registration by anyone somehow problematically “linked” to Islam (to use a favorite piece of jargon), no matter what they actually believe. In other words, what we have on our hands is an incipient witch hunt.

No legitimate law enforcement purpose is served by the demand to disclose one’s religious belief, absent a prior showing of either reasonable suspicion or probable cause in cases where belief in Islam is relevant to the elements of the suspected crime. No procedure short of torture or the threat of punishment can produce an accurate answer in cases where the person questioned decides to dissimulate, which could in principle be most cases. The policy has to be implemented by force–and it’s worth remembering that, as Locke puts it, political power means the power to inflict death (Second Treatise, sect. 3). Already in this country we’ve seen notable cases of people being killed for their failure to comply fully with police orders (this is an understatement). It is not implausible to think that if Trump’s policy is somehow given the force of law, people could be shot dead for refusing to comply with it. And incarceration and fines are a given in cases of a failure to comply. Speaking of fines, I should add that in 2011, I predicted that the hijab law in France would be implemented by armed force (pp. 179-181), and that’s not only what happened, but understates what was to happen.

So far, no one in favor of the proposal has defined the relevant criteria for someone’s being a Muslim. On orthodox criteria–belief in God plus belief in the prophecy of Muhammad–the declaration has little or no political significance. Whatever you think is logically entailed by a commitment to belief in God plus the prophecy of Muhammad, as an actual matter, the vast majority of Americans Muslims do not think it requires illegality or violence. The self-proclaimed “experts” who are asserting otherwise have no fucking idea what they’re talking about, and lack even a minimal interest in respecting the rights of Muslims in this country. The credibility being granted such claims is on par with the credibility so easily granted to the 9/11 celebration rumors. The current proposal operates at the same hysterical level as those rumors, and cashes in on the same underlying deception–that Muslims are bloodthirsty savages theologically commanded to subvert the U.S. government, that we the American people are at war with them, and that we ought to treat them, en masse, as a hostile enemy in our midst, and do with them as we please. (And then, of course, there’s stupid shit like this and this.)

I’m not a constitutional lawyer (or a lawyer), but I think it’s clear that as applied to American citizens, the proposal is unconstitutional on its face: it violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. First: It would be a law (or policy or regulation) directly concerning an establishment of religion. Fourth: It illegitimately treats religious affiliation as a predicate for search and/or seizure. Fifth: It violates the right against self-incrimination (in a context where “being a Muslim” is being regarded as incriminatory). Ninth: Unenumerated rights are reserved to the people, and if there is one right we absolutely have, it is the right to keep our counsel about metaphysical beliefs the sheer possession of which is never a crime. Whatever you think about its truth or falsity, rationality or irrationality, it simply is not a crime to believe in God and the prophecy of Muhammad (or the inerrancy of the Qur’an, or any of the rest of Islam, etc.). If so, you cannot legitimately be compelled by anyone to answer for having the relevant beliefs. Notice that the rights implicit in the Ninth Amendment are held not just held by citizens, but by the people.

I wrote the following post on Facebook. Maybe it sounds over-heated to some, but I didn’t write it in haste or heat. I wrote it with all due deliberation. I posted it because I mean it. And if you think I’m jumping the gun, so to speak, because we haven’t yet gotten a clear declaration that he’s coming after the likes of me, my response is: don’t hold your breath for one of those. (He pulled the same stunt on his so-called Muslim ban.) Because when the time it comes, it’ll be too late. The time to oppose this, on the maximalist interpretation of what he could mean, is now. I’ll cut Trump and his supporters some interpretive charity when they manage to be clear enough to have earned it. And not a minute before.

*The latest, from Vox, as of late on November 16, 2016. From NBC.

A bit of background: I have a Muslim name and had a Muslim upbringing. The first thing you see when you walk into my office is a plaque with a brass inscription of a verse from the Qur’an (Ayat ul Qursi). At face value, I seem as Muslim as the next Muslim. And who knows what’s going on in my head? Even the people who know me best don’t know that.

Suppose the government wants to know whether I really am a “Muslim,” and if I am, wants me to register on its Official List of Muslims. Suppose that I absolutely refuse to answer the first question, and therefore absolutely refuse to register for the list. Now what?

“Oh, but let’s be positive and heal, and work with our president elect in the name of national unity.”

I have a better idea. Why don’t those of you who voted for Trump take some responsibility for your vote? And why don’t those of you who don’t have to register but want to engage in accommodationist baby talk do the same? If you want me on a list, say so. If you don’t, tell your Fuhrer to dial it back. But if you’re going to put me on a list, don’t get “uncomfortable” if I get confrontational with you in person when I see you. Now is not the time for me to give much of a shit about your comfort. Now is the time for me to show you that I’m a lot more confrontational than you ever realized–a lot more of an asshole, and a lot more willing to “lose friends over politics” than you could possibly have imagined.

What you need to realize is that I’m not just willing to “lose friends over politics.” If a friend of mine showed up at my door armed, with an order for me to divulge the contents of my conscience and put me on a registry, I wouldn’t just de-friend them. I’d kill them if I could get away with it. Because friends of this sort are indistinguishable from enemies. Friendship without justice is not friendship at all. It’s an extended exercise in simultaneous self-deception..

What did you think was going to happen when someone decided to put me on a list like this? Was I supposed to remember all the J.D Vance hillbilly sob stories I’d heard? Was I supposed to call to mind the fears, opioid addictions, chronic unemployment, and military service of the heartland of this great country, and just let it go? Was I supposed to break down in guilt, sigh, sign the register, and tell myself, “But people are afraid…”? Or was I supposed to focus on the fact that my rights, my liberty, and my life were at stake, and act accordingly?

But hey…though you may have voted for Trump, there’s no need to demonize you, right? I mean, you’re a veteran, you’re a cop, you’re an IT worker, you work for the postal service, you’re an opioid addict, you’re a nice guy, you’re up for a beer, you love the Giants, you have a dog, you’re the father of daughters, you lost your job to the Mexicans and it’s been rough since then, you’re my neighbor and my pal, etc. …Guess what? I don’t fucking care. You’re my enemy now. And I’m going to treat you as one.

You think you can make ad hoc excuses for me because I’m one of the “good Muslims” or a “purely nominal Muslim” and the registry is only for the “bad guys”? Problem is, that’s not how Trump is selling it–not that the “only for the bad guys” idea made any sense in the first place. Too bad it didn’t occur to you to figure out how to operationalize any of the relevant variables. Too bad it didn’t occur to you that you’re not permitted to operationalize variables like that in the law at all. And if you don’t understand the preceding few sentences because you lack the education to understand them–unfortunately for you, that’s not my problem. You’re my problem. And from now on, expect to be dealt with that way. You can’t expect civility when you’ve got a gun to my head.

What gun? Well, if I refuse to comply with a demand to register, will I be arrested? If I resist arrest, will I be forced to submit? If I resist the latter coercion in a violent but self-defensive way, will I be shot? Not too many nice options here. And believe it or not, “patriotic” horseshit about “healing” and “accommodation” and “non-partisanship” doesn’t generate any nicer ones. You may never have had to deal with these questions in the little bubble you inhabit. But I’m facing them now.

I’d like to hear about this from people in law enforcement–presumably federal law enforcement, or from members of any local agencies who might be deputized to carry out federal functions of this sort. Are you willing to enforce a policy of this kind, or if it comes down to it, will you refuse to enforce it on grounds of unconstitutionality? You swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. What does that oath say or imply about this?

Relatedly: It would be nice to hear our sitting president and sitting FBI director ask our president-elect pointblank what he’s talking about. We need more specificity from Trump than his transparent attempt to evade the issue. We spent a lot of time, effort, and money investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails and her responsibility for events in Benghazi–and came up with nothing. How about investigating this?

This is the world that Trump’s supporters have brought us. But they want our respect, and get so very angry when we criticize their lack of intelligence, their lack of integrity, their dishonesty, and their tendency to treat minorities as the collateral damage of their fascist policies.

I guess all I can say to Trump’s supporters, sympathizers, and excuse-makers is: feel free to cry me a river over your grievances. And feel free to drown yourselves in it, too. But whatever you do, don’t expect compliance. You won’t get it, until you put a gun to my head and threaten to pull the trigger. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, if we do.

I don’t agree with the tactic of having everyone register for this registry. That just confuses the issue. There is only one legitimate response: categorical refusal. You want to make me register? Come get me. But come armed. Because you’re “absolutely” going to need it.

27 thoughts on “Donald Trump’s Muslim Registry: A Demand for Clarity and a Call for Pre-Emptive Civil Disobedience (Updated)

  1. identity politics begets identity politics and now it has infected both the left and the right. if only someone had tried to warn Democrats that their in-group language rules and constant signaling made them myopic and politically weak.

    I sympatheize with some of what you wrote but ultimately President Duck is the consequence of President Zero and lets not forget his deportations.


    • Lots of imprecision and reliance on metaphors there. Identity politics begets identity politics and has infected both left and right. But voting is neither sexual reproduction nor a disease vector. It’s a choice for which people are responsible. And those who voted for Trump should be held responsible for it. His tactic is to blurt out the most insane policy choice he can come up with off the top of his head, see if he can get away with it, then ratchet it back if he can’t until he reaches a comfortable stopping point, reverses himself, or just confuses everyone so badly they don’t know how to respond. There is only one way of handling that–to make sure he gets away with nothing.

      Again, since voting is a matter of choice, the Trump election can’t literally be a causal consequence of the Obama presidency as though it just “happened” without the intervening variables of voters’ thoughts and choices. But that’s what your formulations omit.

      Obama’s deportations are a red herring. The deportations are a terrible thing, but absent a fully formulated policy, any country is apt to deport some undocumented aliens. Meanwhile, Obama is being attacked by the right for immigration amnesty. But whether you regard Obama as too harsh or too lax on immigration (or somehow as both), deportation is beside the point: deporting undocumented aliens is not comparable to compelling citizens to register as adherents of a criminally suspect religion within the context of criminal law enforcement. No one needs to demand clarity re whether illegal immigrants can be deported. That’s obvious. But creating an ideological registry while also insisting on deporting 11 million immigrants goes well beyond anything that Obama has done in his eight years in office. Trump = Obama is a false equation, explains nothing, and excuses nothing.

      It also doesn’t dispute the validity of what I called for in the original post: a demand for clarity and a call for pre-emptive civil disobedience, by which I mean a call to resolve to disobey the policy if implemented. I don’t dispute that the policy can, legally speaking, be applied to incoming refugees. What I dispute there is that it’s morally legitimate or even possible to implement it. I am less adamant that border control officers should refuse to ask the question whether a non-citizen at a border crossing is a Muslim (though I generally think they should not). What I would insist on is that no American citizen or legal resident sign the registry, and that no law enforcement officer enforce the process of registration. Both parties should, in advance, announce their intention to disobey the proposed law/policy. And Trump’s supporters should stop boo-hooing about our morally “shaming” them. It’s a disgrace that they’ve elected someone who proposes something like this. They elected the son of a bitch. This is their problem to fix. Either they fix it, or it becomes clear to the rest of us that they don’t regard it as a problem. The more they make that clear, the clearer it becomes that they deserve the opprobrium that they’re getting.

      The opprobrium isn’t just idly expressive. It has a political purpose–impeachment.

      The subjects of its jurisdiction [impeachment] are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to the injuries done immediately to the society itself…What, it may be asked, is the true spirit of the institution itself? Is it not designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men? (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 65).

      To impeach a president, you have to make the case that morally speaking, he has no business being president. It’s comical to think that eighteen years ago we thought that about Bill Clinton. And yet eighteen years later, we are supposed to be tied up in knots about whether it is permissible to pass moral judgment on Donald Trump. That we might hurt the feelings of his white followers if we do is just identity politics all over again. Put differently: if identity politics begets identity politics, maybe it’s time for an abortion.


      • I think it is short-sighted to reduce Trump to white working-class individuals: he has voters in all sections of the population.

        I also think there is a common trait in Trump’s election to President now, and the first Obama election. They both promised change, Obama in the optimistic, Trump in the dystopian version. Whether there actually is a need for change, is – unfortunately – neither here nor there, because politics isn’t necessarily about realities, but about emotions. I personally think there is a need for change at the margin, not at the heart of things, but I (and those who share my opinion) seem to be in the minority at the moment. Radical change was promised, and elected.

        Obama was unable to change the way things are done in Washington. I’m convinced Trump will be no catalyst of real and substantive change, either (and thank the Fates for that), and definitely no catalyst for change for the better. But the problem is that the desire for change won’t go away. I shiver when I think of what disgruntled voters will do next.


        • Well, I’m not reducing Trump to any particular demographic. I acknowledge that he has voters across all (or many) sectors of the population. What I’m responding to are the excuses made for having voted for him. The excuse du jour involves white working-class voters: J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has become the new source of these excuses, and it’s the Vance-influenced excuse makers who refers to a white demographic, not me. Here is the same childish story, minus the explicitly ethnic component. The point is that we’re supposed to excuse voting for Trump because we’re supposed to feel sorry for this demographic. Apart from whether this particular demographic is responsible for having put Trump in office, or whether this demographic voted uniformly for Trump, or…whatever, my point is: I don’t care. They’ve put themselves in an adversarial position vis-a-vis people like me. They have to expect reciprocity.

          Does the Trump demographic consist of white folks having a tough time in a globalized economy? Does it consist of white folks who felt marginalized by the smug rhetoric of the liberal Democrats? Does it consist of people who just felt forgotten, regardless of their ethnicity? My response is: does it matter? Let the quantitative political scientists answer these questions, if they can. No answer changes the issue: Trump supporters have to be held to account, as does Trump.

          The way to begin is to demand clarity from Trump on his proposal, and then tell law enforcement that we will not comply with any demand for registration. Let Trump explain himself to our satisfaction. And let members of law enforcement re-read the oaths they took before getting their enforcement powers, and consult the Constitution and their consciences as to its meaning. With the Fraternal Order of Police backing Trump, there’s no guarantee they’ll come to the right answer. But God help them if they don’t.


          • J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy isn’t a source for excuses but for understanding the situation and a very good one at that. You ignore that at your own peril. Reciprocity is a two way street. Maybe the progressives will join the rest of us in re-discovering limited government this time around.


            • I haven’t read Vance’s book. My point is that it is being invoked to provide excuses for voting for Trump–and it is. This article from The Columbus Dispatch accurately summarizes the excuse-making consensus:

              Vance, who grew up in Middletown in southwestern Ohio and Jackson, Kentucky, didn’t set out to write a book about why Trump won the presidency, but that’s essentially what he did with “Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” published in June. The searing autobiography about income inequality, childhood trauma, addiction and the anger of the white working class has been embraced by many critics and politicos as a field guide to how Trump pulled off one of the most stunning political victories in modern American history.

              Vance’s observations appear to have been validated on Election Day. Trump rolled up large margins in Ohio’s traditional Republican rural counties, greater than those of Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump captured at least 70 percent of the vote in 30 of 88 counties, topped by Mercer County in western Ohio, where he won 80.7 percent.

              Perhaps more important was Trump’s success in flipping 10 Ohio counties that had voted Democratic in the past. Two of the counties, Ashtabula and Trumbull, last voted Republican in 1984 and 1972, respectively.

              Clinton won just seven of 88 counties, all urban areas except for Athens, home to Ohio University.

              Significantly, exit polls showed that among white voters without a college degree, Trump tromped Clinton 59 percent to 37 percent.

              Vance said the white working class has been in slow decline for three decades, accompanied by a breakdown in families, fewer people attending church, and the scourge of the opioid epidemic.

              There you have it–from Vance, not from me. The white working class is in decline and angry, and that’s why they needed to vote for a presidential candidate who promised to create a registry for Muslims and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. As everyone knows, the decline of the white working class was caused by the combined activities of Muslim Americans and undocumented Mexican day laborers, which is why it makes perfect sense for an ethnicity in decline to have voted for someone like Donald Trump. Right?

              Never mind that the explanation doesn’t manage to account for the Trump voters who aren’t working class. But even if it accounted for the white working class ones, why am I supposed to care, given the topic under discussion? Am I now supposed to say, “Oh, I didn’t realize: you’re an ethnicity in decline. Well now I understand why I need to be put on a registry. In fact, given your decline, I’d like to put myself on a registry, if that makes you feel any better. And if doing so gets some of you off of percocet, well that’s just icing on the cake!”

              I wasn’t so much discussing Vance’s book as discussing how it was being invoked as a source of excuse making. But in this case, it’s Vance himself who’s invoking it. I can’t be ignoring Vance if I’m quoting him, and I can’t be ignoring his book if I’m quoting him on his book.

              It’s worth remembering that understanding a situation is perfectly compatible with opposing the people who brought it about. Robert Wright’s The Looming Tower is a pretty good way of understanding Al Qaida, but understanding Al Qaida is perfectly compatible with going to war against it.

              You haven’t said a word in response to the main point of my post: that we should demand clarity on Trump’s proposal and oppose the registry. Are you in favor or against? Or do the woes of the declining white working class always just happen to take precedence to such merely ethnic issues?

              Just to repeat what I’ve said and what you haven’t so far addressed: no matter what the demographic explanation for Trump’s victory, it can’t justify a compulsory registry. The constitutionality of a registry is a judicial matter. Understanding the demographics of the pro-Trump vote has no bearing on the relevant questions of constitutional interpretation. You can spend the rest of your life in a drug rehab facility full of white opioid addicts, but doing so would not explain why a registry is unconstitutional.

              “Reciprocity is a two way street.” What does that mean? What reciprocity do I owe to people who want to compel me to divulge whether I’m a Muslim or not, regardless of whether they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that I’ve committed a crime? Or do you mean that if I refuse to put my name on such a registry, they’re entitled to retaliate against me in tit-for-tat fashion for the offense of not doing as they demand? You don’t seem to have grasped that I haven’t done anything to them. Their candidate wants to do something to me.

              As for rediscovering limited government, all I can say is: if you’re trying to have a public conversation with a phantom audience, I suppose you’re succeeding. But if you’re trying to have a conversation with me, you might want to clarify. I’ve never described myself as a progressive, and I’ve explicitly defended limited government in print. Try this or this. So the point of your last sentence is a mystery.

              By the way, the idea of “re-discovering” limited government presupposes that there is some text out there that states the case for limited government in a concise and lucid way. What text do you recommend?


      • This is addressed to both djr and Irfan so here goes:

        djr’s comment is a very good example of the mindset that doesn’t understand why it lost and seeks to blame it on others he doesn’t like. A bit of self-reflection might be in order instead of a drawn out rant about the ‘deplorables’.

        the Democrats/the left/Clinton/Obama/ played a role in electing Trump. It’s no use denying this. Various progressives actively sought to prop him up in the primaries and after. Through Wikileaks we know that Clinton and the DNC wanted to elevate him. At various stages influential people could have killed Trump’s bid, but he was useful to them at the time and they figured he’d lose eventually. Win the battle, lose the war.

        On top of that they wasted the last several years on infighting, call-out culture, and displays of ideological purity. the SPLC branding Maajid Nawaz as an anti-Muslim extremist is a good example of what time and energy get wasted on.

        So, if you are on that side of the political spectrum please take time off for some introspection on why you are so hated that people are willing to roll dice on a creepy ignorant power-lusting bully just to stick it to you.


        The deportations were about the abuse of executive powers and how these can in turn also be abused by an even worse candidate. People turned a blind eye to them and other similar abuses (to citizens) a very long time ago. Now they are pretending that they are problematic because Trump got elected. The cognitive dissonance is incredible I have to say.

        Impeach Trump? why? they didn’t impeach Obama for his deportations and drone attacks and neither did they impeach Clinton for going off on his favourite skirmishes in Sudan or GWB for the Iraq War before him. Any talk of impeachment is dishonest at this stage.

        If you want to abort, you’ll end up aborting most of the population.

        As for resistance, I applaud Democrats/the left now mounting the barricades of procedural and constitutional resistance to the executive. That you only do so when the President doesn’t have a D next to his name and he isn’t grasping power to punish your favored enemies, however, makes you rather fickle and lousy allies in the fight for freedom, liberty, and & constitutional government. The only way Trump can be a “good” or “successful” President is if he is kept in a tight box of legal and constitutional supervision–and all subsequent Presidents should be kept there as well.

        All the best with President Duck and the echo chambers all around you.


        • I’ll let DJR respond to the part of your post that refers to him. It’s the ne plus ultra of a Michael Philips comment: free associate for a while without punctuation, and hope that something sticks.

          Cognitive dissonance is something suffered by a person. The person with whom you’re currently having a conversation is me. I am not suffering any cognitive dissonance, and have no reason to suffer any. If you think I do, you might want to find contrary propositions that I’ve actually asserted and attribute them to me. But you haven’t. That some liberals and leftists are suffering cognitive dissonance is indisputable, but hardly news, hardly important, and hardly different from what some conservatives, right wingers, and Republicans are suffering. It’s completely beside the point, but asserting what’s beside the point seems to be the closest you ever come to being on point.

          As for the deportations, I’ve already offered a response to which you’ve offered nothing responsive. In any case, deportation is not unconstitutional but a registry would be. Impeachment is an obvious remedy for a president who engages in an unconstitutional act. It’s not intended for anything that might qualify in some sense (on some idiosyncratic and ideological reading) as an “abuse of power.” But the registry, as applied to citizens, is obviously unconstitutional. It’s not comparable to deportations of undocumented aliens, coming from a president who is also trying to offer them amnesty.

          Obama’s drone attacks are/were neither an unconstitutional act nor an impeachable offense. If you have a case to make against them, I’d love to hear it, but just mentioning them isn’t going to do your work for you. Clinton’s attack on Khartoum may have been inadvisable, but it wasn’t impeachable or unconstitutional (it was retaliation for the Nairobi/Dar es Salaam terrorist attacks), and in any case, Clinton was impeached, and the lawyers managing the impeachment decided to choose offenses for their indictment that were most likely to lead to success.

          Maybe GWB should have been impeached for the Iraq War, but whether he should or shouldn’t have been has no bearing on whether Trump should or shouldn’t be for the registry. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it makes particularly little sense to complain that since the Democrats failed to impeach the last Republican president, they should never impeach another one. Magnanimity or (having other priorities) doesn’t entail that you have to put up with abuses forever. And since Bush could claim that he (and others) saw a real threat from Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, and saw himself as implementing UN Resolution 1441 when no one else would, an impeachment would be a stretch. But it is not a stretch for a proposal, like the Muslim registry, that is clearly and obviously unconstitutional.

          As for this…

          As for resistance, I applaud Democrats/the left now mounting the barricades of procedural and constitutional resistance to the executive. That you only do so when the President doesn’t have a D next to his name and he isn’t grasping power to punish your favored enemies, however, makes you rather fickle and lousy allies in the fight for freedom, liberty, and & constitutional government.

          I’m sorry, but that’s some really stupid shit. It accuses the Democrats of hypocrisy on principled limits to power. Let that (unsupported) assumption go, as though the ACLU had never existed, and had never criticized Democrats. It then proceeds to equate me (“you”) with those hypocritical Democrats.

          Well, I was a Republican until the early fall of 2015. So you’re saying that I’ve only developed a taste for procedural rights and constitutionality in the last year? Or are you saying that I’ve abandoned my prior Republican taste for it in the last year? You might consider an alternative hypothesis: that you don’t know me well enough to know what the fuck you’re talking about. What you see is the online version of my life. But believe it or not, my life isn’t entirely spent online, and you wouldn’t begin to know what happens in the rest of it. You might want to stick with what you know, and leave the rest alone.


        • Michael, I don’t think I have any trouble understanding the mindsets of people who voted for Trump. In fact, I think I understand them quite well. Earlier in the period leading up to the election, I decided to try an experiment on a Facebook thread full of people claiming that they couldn’t understand why anybody would vote for Trump. Basically I wanted to see if I could pass an ideological Turing test while writing at pretty good length and not simply spouting slogans, but explaining why we should vote for Trump. I passed with flying colors; not only did the anti-Trump folks begin arguing with me, but a number of Trump supporters expressed their agreement. Now, I admit that passing this sort of test on social media is hardly proof that I understand why people supported Trump. So I’ll just have to ask you to trust me that I do. I don’t think it’s particularly hard, though I readily concede that people on the other side seem to struggle with it. That strikes me as normal; most folks, wherever they are on whatever political spectrum, literally cannot grasp how people with strongly different political views can hold those views. But for a number of reasons mostly having to do with my personal history, I find it relatively easy to grasp a wide array of conflicting worldviews ‘from the inside,’ as it were, and I don’t think this is so much an achievement on my part as it is a failure on the part of those who can’t do it. Not always their own fault, but a failure nonetheless.

          Your inference that I don’t understand these people seems based on nothing more than the fact that I am willing to criticize them severely and am happy to ascribe their support of Trump to a mixture of stupidity and moral failure. I hope I don’t need to point out to you that an inference of that sort is fallacious. Stupidity and moral failure aren’t unintelligible; they’re all too easy to understand. If you intend to cast any doubt on my judgment, you’re going to have to make the case that it is neither stupid nor a moral failure to support Trump and that the majority of people who supported him did so for intelligent and morally respectable reasons. Good luck.


  2. For all we know, I could end up on one of these ‘registries,’ since I am pretty clearly linked to you, and you probably pass the test as a ‘known Muslim.’ You’ve got the right (wrong?) kind of name and the right kind of national background, you’re in print acknowledging your Muslim upbringing, you’re known as a defender of Muslims in the U.S. and of the Palestinians against Israel, and you associate with plenty of Muslims. Whether or not you’re really just pretending to be an apostate, your relationship to Islam along with your expressed political sympathies make you suspicious. Even if you’re not really a believer, your links to Islam could very well lead you to be dangerous. Since you’re dangerous, and I’m on record frequently expressing agreement and sympathy with you, perhaps I should be put on a registry too and kept under close watch; maybe it should be a separate list, since I’m white and therefore less dangerous?

    I’m still having trouble believing that the registration of Muslims will actually happen, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch at all to imagine that you would end up on the list. I’m fairly certain that the train of thought that would get you on the list is a train of thought that many people sympathetic to the idea would find pretty natural. I no longer trust my sense of what is and isn’t likely to happen, so I’m not going to pretend that this won’t just because it’s so ludicrous. The mere fact that we can sit here and wonder how likely it is to happen is ludicrous enough. We should not be in this position at all.

    There are many respects in which what we’re in for under the next administration is what we would be in for under almost any Republican president given the Republican control of congress: repeal rather than reform of the ACA, privatization of Medicare, tax cuts of dubious value to people under real financial strain, far-right supreme court nominees, the legalization of base discrimination on the grounds of ‘religious liberty,’ attacks on abortion rights, efforts to undermine same-sex marriage, disregard for environmental protection, etc. These are all, or almost all, understandably controversial. I’d oppose them, and I’d have serious disagreements with people who voted in such a way as to make them happen. But that’d be politics as usual, and with a few possible exceptions hardly cause for thinking that we’re about to enter a period of crisis.

    Even if Trump had not voiced any other ideas beyond the mainstream of the current Republican congress, his victory would be a disgrace. His inexperience and sheer ignorance are enough to disqualify him, and if that’s not enough, his obviously vicious character should be (and I am rather less convinced of the importance of character for voting than you are). But none of that is really the problem here. Nor is it even that, on top of all of that, he offers a mixture of vacuous, incoherent, uninformed, and plainly foolish policy proposals. The problem is that we’ve got a guy who shows utter contempt for law and for people’s constitutional rights, who has amply demonstrated such egregious disregard for truth that he makes ordinary politicians look positively truth-loving. The idea of banning Muslims or requiring a Muslim registry, even if it really were nothing more than a “suggestion,” properly should have relegated the man to the fringes of political society. Anyone who even thinks that this is a legitimate proposal long enough to “suggest” it publicly has no business holding any form of political office. But he’s about to.

    I have been largely avoiding social media, and most forms of media, since Wednesday, because I don’t think it’s worth my time to argue with people about these things in a forum where nobody’s mind will be changed, and, somewhat embarrassingly, I just haven’t had the emotional fortitude to bear the discussion. I haven’t been able to spend more than two minutes reading Facebook or even journalistic opinion without becoming frustrated, angry, and depressed. There are a lot of bad ideas floating around, but the two that I see most frequently and that irritate me the most are that we need to stop blaming and villainizing Trump voters and that, if we’re going to blame somebody, it should be the Democrats/the left/Clinton/Obama/ourselves.

    Both of these ideas are ridiculous. In defense of Trump supporters, I’m hearing a lot to the effect of “they’re not all racists or xenophobes, they’re not evil people they just disagree with you!” I’m quite happy to concede, as I always have conceded, that a great many Trump supporters are not straight-up racists or xenophobes. But they voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and policy proposals are instruments of racism and xenophobia. If the best you can say for yourself is, “hey, I’m not a racist, I just reward and enable racism, and I’m indifferent to that,” you should not expect me to have a much less hostile attitude toward you. Why, exactly, should I not regard such people as suffering from some combination of bad character and bad judgment? Why the hell should I not blame them for the outcome of this election?

    Predictably, because I should blame myself, or Obama, or Clinton, or the Democratic party in general, or the media, or anybody except the people whose choices actually brought about the result. Insofar as these exercises in armchair social psychology are meant simply to offer explanations for how this happened, and perhaps to suggest strategic campaign choices that Clinton et al. might have made to change the outcome, I can let them pass, though I don’t find many of them especially plausible or insightful (many of them seem to fail in the face of the fact that Trump’s support overwhelmingly did not come from economically disadvantaged or socially marginalized people, for instance). But the suggestion often seems instead to be that it’s really Clinton or the Democrats or some other left-wing scapegoat that deserves the blame here. It’s hardly a surprise that people are irrational in apportioning blame, but this particular suggestion is one I can’t take seriously.

    Might there have been some rhetorical or political strategy that could have won over enough Trump supporters to change the outcome? Sure. Might the Democrats & pals have been foolish in failing to adopt that strategy? Sure. Might we even be irritated at them for failing to adopt it? Sure. But to blame them for the outcome would be the equivalent of blaming women for being raped because they were drunk or people for being robbed because they took a walk alone at night in a sketchy neighborhood. In each case, the victim takes some action apart from which she would not have become a victim; in each case, it perhaps should have been clear to the victim that she was taking a risk. But it isn’t the victim’s fault that she was raped or robbed. The rapist or the robber is the one who did the thing. The victim may have been imprudent, but the blame belongs to the bastard who robbed or raped her. Blaming the Democrats / Clinton / Obama / etc for Trump’s victory is exactly like blaming the victim of a robbery or a rape for the rape or the robbery, as though there wasn’t another human being involved doing the robbing and raping. Only it’s worse: it’s like blaming a victim who tried very hard to avoid it and put up a struggle, but was overpowered.

    Of course, people frequently do blame women for being raped, so I guess it should be no surprise that they want to blame Trump’s opponents for his victory. But it is difficult to see how many Trump supporters could have been won over. I listened to 15 minutes of interviews on BBC News Hour with residents of West Virginia who voted for Trump. When asked why they supported him, their answers were uniformly standard conservative answers: we need to kill Obamacare, we need to cut taxes, we need to kill government regulations. Occasionally someone played the “Trump is a businessman” card. On the one hand, it’s hard to see how the Democrats are supposed to win over people who are firmly committed to principles that rule out most of their platform. On the other, it’s hard to see how anyone can win over people who are foolish enough to believe that Trump’s proposals are actually consistent with a traditionally Republican approach to the economy. When people who recite Reaganite ideology to explain their support for a guy whose signature economic proposals are of a decidedly protectionist variety, the inevitable conclusion to draw is that these people are stupid. Perhaps a rhetorical genius could have pierced through that layer of stupidity to charm these idiots into not voting for Trump. But it’s hard to blame anyone for not being that kind of rhetorical genius.

    In short, we owe this electoral outcome to widespread stupidity and indifference to basic, non-negotiable moral commitments. I am not going to give people a pass for being stupid and morally indifferent just because I don’t think that they hate Muslims or Mexicans, and I’m sure as hell not going to blame someone else. No, Trump supporters are not evil incarnate. But most evil is abysmally boring. Irfan is right: these people are his enemies. And Irfan is my friend. Therefore they are my enemies, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and very well put throughout.

      On registering people like me: When I was fool enough to leave critical comments at right-wing anti-Islam websites like New English Review, the reflexive reaction there was to poison the well against any argument I made by insinuating that I was a kind of marrano Muslim. One of their writers, Hugh Fitzgerald, could not respond to a thing I said without first addressing their readership and giving a speech to the effect that Khawaja once had sound views on Islam, but had now clearly lapsed under the pressures of filial piety. The idea was, once an apologist, always an apologist. I guess Muslims (whether real or nominal) always act true to type.

      He repeatedly brought up my grandmother. It eventually dawned on me that he was exploiting a passing affectionate (well, backhandedly affectionate) reference to my (deceased) maternal grandmother in an essay called “A Philosopher’s Rejection of Islam” (in the 2003 book, Leaving Islam). What I had said was that my mother and grandmother formed a good cop/bad cop duo when it came to educating me in the faith, and that my grandmother played the good cop in the enterprise. They took that and ran with it. From my having described her as the good cop, they surmised that I was still so attached to her that I was willing to play the role of apologist for the faith simply out of respect for her memory (or for the wishes of my family generally). The truth is, they knew nothing about my family or about my biography, but they weren’t above confabulating things like this out of whole cloth. Nor were they above dragging my family into the bargain. I mean, if you want to poison a well, any toxin will do. This is the kind of moral trash Trump is appeasing. And this was the civilized wing of the anti-Islam movement in America.

      Though I’ve written a bit about my rejection of Islam, what I’ve written doesn’t really capture the sum total of my thoughts, feelings, and practices on the subject. I suppose you could accurately call me an atheist, but you could with equal accuracy call me a religious fictionalist about Islam. I regard both Judaism and Islam as fictions, but I also think that it can be salutary to suspend one’s disbelief and enter into a fiction. In that sense, I could in some (odd) sense qualify as a practicing Jew, Muslim, or Judeo-Muslim. It’s admittedly an eccentric thing to be, but until I decide to say more about it than I have (in the preceding few sentences), it’s a private matter and a long and complicated affair. Imagine trying to explain this at a legal inquest or in the context of a registry.

      Whatever my view is–whether true or false, sensible or ridiculous–it’s not a legitimate subject for a legal inquest. And that’s not just true of me and my idiosyncratic beliefs. It’s true of everyone. To force anyone to confess their deepest and most private beliefs in a public inquest–without any legitimate connection to any procedurally regulated inquiry into the commission of a crime–is an obscenity.

      The whole thing reminds me of the court scene at the end of The Merchant of Venice, where Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity. The conversion scene never fails to horrify me, but I have to confess: I’ve shown the film version of The Merchant of Venice in class, and the conversion scene always evokes the same reaction in my students; it evokes gleeful laughter at Shylock’s supposedly deserved predicament. I show it anyway, knowing that that will be the reaction, repeating to myself the mantra that it may be mortifying, but it’s still “a teachable moment.” But I wonder: if we re-wrote The Merchant of Venice so that Shylock was a Muslim, and turned it into a Hollywood blockbuster that everyone was obliged to watch, would audiences laugh at Muslim-Shylock’s forced conversion? I almost don’t want to know. All I can say is, experiences like this are why the Trump victory was not a total surprise to me. Once you see college kids laughing at a forced conversion, you’re ready for anything.

      I won’t comment on the rest of what you wrote, except to say that I agree with all of it. The attempts to blame the election results on the left, the liberals, the Democrats etc. all remind me of the attempts to explain the failure of Pickett’s charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Everyone had his theory on why it failed, but Pickett’s seems the most sensible: “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” Maybe Trump’s supporters had something to do with the results of Election 2016, as well.

      I think your reaction to Facebook is natural. I don’t think you should fight it; I think you should embrace it. We should all be ratcheting back the amount of time we spend in think-alike online echo chambers. The lessons of chapter 2 of Mill’s On Liberty are extremely pertinent here: we all need to get out more. But if we really want to resist the Trump administration–and I’m in favor of resistance, not accommodation–we need to leave the comfort of our computer screens, and learn how to engage in some real-world politics. My preferred vehicles for that are the ACLU, the Center for the Constitutional Rights, and locally, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and my main concern is criminal justice. But let a thousand flowers bloom. Not a thousand likes. A thousand flowers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you want to keep losing a lot of elections to right-wing populists read djr’s clueless rant.

    Now back to Trump and his supporters; Trump’s trade protectionism and xenophobia won’t help working class people, of course. But what attractive alternative were his supporters offered? We could have spent the last five years developing policies that actually helped & resonated with working class people. Instead we spent most of our time ruining the lives of other people who didn’t do anything wrong.

    And I’m sorry if this offends anyone here, but the downward slide to Trump’s success involved the Democrats and all their supporters as well unless you wish to make the claim that they’re somehow not part of the social fabric that makes up this country. There’s no use pretending that their policy failures (foreign or economic or otherwise) didn’t help contribute to all the demands for radical change and against the status quo and eventually to the rise of what is a modern day version of Theodore Roosevelt.

    I agree that people need to get out more. I think Americans who voted for these candidates should go to the streets–and instead of marching around and yelling, seek out someone who voted differently and go out for coffee. Everyone is living in a snarky, yelling, echo chamber. Most voters aren’t ideological and make their votes for a long list of reasons and hunches and guesses. The fact that we don’t regularly chat with different people out and about probably accounts for a great deal of our current high levels of social anxiety–not to mention our quick penchant for believing the absolute worst about each other.

    djr and Irfan should start with themselves because they’ve quickly turned into partisans parroting party talk points. Not exactly the thing to do if you want to turn around events within the coming 4 years of the presidency but good for a moral panic and for battling your own hallucinations of the future.


    • I love the style here: stay on message by ignoring the actual topic of the original post, blather on for paragraphs about the very topic I’ve said over and over and I don’t care about–and is ultimately irrelevant to what I’m actually saying–ignore all of the specifics I’ve so far offered, then accuse DJR and me of “parroting party talk points.” It’s the style of our new polity and the discourse that goes with it: stick your head as far up your ass as possible, blame everyone else for the darkness you see, but above all, keep talking.

      What would be the point of talking to people under such circumstances? You bring up the registry proposal, and they fixate on working class people. You bring up the registry proposal, and they blame the Democrats for the election. You bring up the registry proposal, and they give you a mini-lecture about the non-ideological character of the voting public. You bring up the registry proposal, and they blame you for generating “moral panic.” You bring up the registry proposal, and their discursive strategy becomes: let’s discuss everything but that. I guess the proper response to all of that is to say: from now on, I’ll remember to discuss things with everyone but you.


    • I’m not sure I understand your point. Do you mean to suggest that it isn’t stupid for a conservative (or anyone else) to support a candidate whose economic policy is thoroughly protectionist, or that it isn’t morally objectionable to support a candidate who proposes banning Muslims from the U.S. and then suggests simply registering and monitoring them as a softer, compromise position, or that it isn’t foolish to elect someone with zero political experience who doesn’t even know how many amendments there are to the Constitution? What better alternative was available, you ask? Clinton. Johnson. A write-in candidate. Not voting for president. These aren’t partisan points; plenty of conservatives and libertarians made them. So yeah, if there is a party of Progressives-Traditional Conservatives-Libertarians-and-Socialists, I am definitely a partisan parrot (but without the pretty colors).

      I appreciate your concern that I should grow in self-knowledge, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to help me out a bit more.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I fixed the link. His view has not changed at all since last year, when he said he would “absolutely” implement a list. “Absolutely” means: in any year. What he was saying then is identical to what he is saying now, whether you call it “now” or not.


      • Well, that was two whole months ago, and doesn’t include any new statements from him. He sometimes has trouble being consistent from week to week, so it won’t be a surprise if he forgets all about this one. Probably it will depend; on any given day, if he’s been listening to Reince Priebus, he might remember that it’d be an inefficient, likely ineffective, and unconstitutional proposal, whereas if he’s been listening to Steve Bannon, all bets are off.

        Obama said today that Trump is pragmatic, not ideological. To judge from his history, I think that’s right; it’s just that so far as a presidential candidate and now as president-elect he’s found it pragmatic to align himself with some very rotten ideology and some very rotten ideologues. I am holding out hope, but not holding my breath, that his will turn out to be a run-of-the-mill Republican administration when it comes to policy. It’s just that, well, only time will tell. And who knows what “run-of-the-mill Republican” will mean in four years.


  4. Irfan wrote that “the Trump election can’t literally be a causal consequence of the Obama presidency . . . .” An important part of the Trump votes came from a very old voting block, the decades-old block seeking Justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, and this stance has nothing to do with anything peculiar to the Obama presidency. An anti-abortionist list from which Trump committed himself to select nominees for the Justice appointments was prepared for him. The American countryside voters are solidly anti-abortionist, and they are not stupid. The countryside voters turn out for him, and he better not double-cross them on this core issue. It will take a little while to get the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Trump and the Senate will need to fill at least one more seat beyond the present vacancy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If the thought here is supposed to be that opponents of abortion were not stupid to vote for Trump given that Trump was the only viable candidate likely to help overturn Roe v. Wade, I’m unconvinced. I’m not an opponent of legalized abortion, but I am about as sympathetic as one can get without being so. Just two considerations that should, I think, have been sufficient to make even pro-life voters refuse to vote for Trump: 1. no matter who he nominates to the court, we are unlikely to see substantive restrictions on abortion as a result, given that (a) overturning Roe v. Wade is not a simple matter, and, more importantly, (b) overturning Roe v. Wade would merely turn the issue over to the states, many of which — even solidly red ones — are unlikely to pass or sustain sweeping restrictions on abortion, given that well over 50% of people in the U.S. do not support sweeping restrictions on abortion, and it would be likely to remain legal in many states, and therefore remain available to anyone who can get a ride, not to mention the fact that those remaining desperate women will no doubt find ways to terminate their pregnancies anyway; 2. it is remarkably foolish to elect a president with no experience, little real knowledge, and little respect for law, civil rights, or truth on the strength of one issue, particularly when he has made clear that he is also likely to enact policies that will do severe damage to the economy, not to mention to the environment and quite possibly to national security. There is also the very real possibility that he has no intention of making pro-life concerns a priority; you say that he’d better not double-cross pro-life voters, and it’s easy to see why it would be foolish for him to do so, but given how wildly he has flipped and flopped on this issue, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      This is not just the musing of someone who, after all, doesn’t support broad legal restrictions on abortion; many committed pro-life Christians have reasoned similarly; for two rather different versions, see, e.g., and

      Unsurprisingly, we can mean a lot of things by ‘stupid.’ If all you want to say is that single issue anti-abortion voters made a choice that exhibited some minimal degree of rationality in selecting the best available means to their one political end, I have no objection. I just have higher standards than that for intelligence.


      • I have a feeling you and Stephen (Boydstun) are talking past one another. I think Stephen’s point was to confirm my claim that anti-abortion voters had their own independent reason for voting for Trump–abortion–one that can’t be blamed on or attributed to Obama, and has nothing to do with Obama. When Stephen said that these voters aren’t “stupid,” I don’t think he intended to be justifying what the Trump voters were doing, so much as making an attribution of instrumental rationality to them, full stop–with no further attribution of practical intelligence of a sort that implies intellectual virtue.


        • Yes, I can see that more readily now; obviously I misread it as a response to my earlier claim. Sorry Stephen!

          It is quite right, I think, that many Trump voters, and not just single-issue anti-abortion voters, had reasons that had little to do with Obama or with failures on the part of his administration. Clinton’s platform gave a prominent place to many things that many voters oppose, and it’s not hard at all to see why she was an unattractive choice to many, even setting aside all the concerns about her in particular. That’s one reason why one of the most common lines I heard from folks I know who voted for Trump was some variation on the, “well, he’s really not great, but at least he isn’t…[insert complaint here].” I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for most of the complaints, but apart from quasi-conspiracy-theory stuff and the occasional sheer malice toward Clinton, I don’t think most of them were irrational. What I think was irrational is the idea that, even from a conservative point of view, Trump was not a far worse choice.

          But that’s all beginning to seem tired now. Now people like me have to figure out what we can do to resist. My hope that the Muslim registry idea would just go away seems already to have been dashed. Probably a lot of dashed hopes to come.


          • I think that’s exactly right. And also right to say that we have to figure out how to resist. At some point, we have to come to grips with the fact that resistance is a practical task, and requires practical rationality in the service of identifiable ends. It’s not a matter of generating noise and outrage as an end in itself. I’m as guilty of the latter as anyone, but I guess eventually we all find our level. Perhaps the first step is admitting the sheer cleverness of the alt-right approach to politcs without conceding that any of that cleverness, however “successful,” achieved a justifiable aim.

            These essays by Cole and Gessen are a good place to start on thinking about resistance and what to do.


  5. Beautifully, passionately written. I have shared it on every front. I am heartbroken by the ideas this man has spewed, and even if he’s backtracking on some of them he’s got people chomping at the bit to act on these maniacal things. I’m heartbroken and angry and I want to jump out of my skin. I wasn’t a big fan of Hillary but I voted for her and for the life of me cannot understand why more people didn’t – if for no reason than to block this guy’s civil wrongs ideas.

    All of my love to you, Irfan.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A response to Samir Chopra’s proposal for civil disobedience on the Muslim registry (originally posted as a comment Joe Biehl’s Facebook timeline):

    As you may or may not know, I’ve written on this [the registry issue] myself and also proposed civil disobedience, but I take strong issue with Chopra’s casual endorsement of the idea of violating the rights of third parties as part of any protest or civil disobedience. Just to be clear about my own non-Kumbaya bona fides: if I was at a protest, and saw Chopra (or anyone else) destroying property, I would use force to restrain him. Yes, if we go to prison, we will need allies. But how do we attract allies after wrecking their property–when what we need them to ante up is precisely…their property? For God’s sake, don’t follow his advice on that point, it’s the last thing we need. Protesters should be scrupulous about respecting the rights of others. I am willing to go to jail and willing to put my body on the line. My body, not your body, and not your property. I am not willing to treat anyone else as collateral damage. It’s precisely that willingness that I would be protesting.


  7. Pingback: Revisiting the “Muslim Registry”: A Proposal | Policy of Truth

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