On Wednesday, President Barack Obama visited a mosque — his first-ever visit to a U.S. mosque during his two terms in office. Speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama met with religious leaders to discuss the problems Muslim Americans are facing across the country.
During the president's speech, he made a strong declaration that being Muslim and being American are not mutually exclusive.
And no. (Seriously, no.) Obama did not visit a mosque because he is Muslim (though a September poll showed 43% of people still believe he is). He visited to shed light on a problem infecting the U.S. — Islamaphobia.
When the perpetrators of the attacks in both Paris and San Bernardino, California, were determined to be Muslim, the issue of how to handle Islamic extremist terrorists morphed into something else entirely: The rhetoric went from tactical to straight-up Islamophobic.
Some of the strongest words came from Republican presidential candidates.
1. In November, former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who withdrew from the presidential race on Tuesday, told Fox News his opinion on welcoming Syrian refugees into the United States:
It's time to wake up and smell the falafel. We are importing terrorism.
2. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also a campaign drop-out, acknowledged at an August campaign event that not all Muslims are terrorists. But his headcount of those Muslims he deemed "reasonable and moderate" was, let's say, lowballing it:
It's a war against Christians, against Jews — it's a war against even the handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam who don't share the radical beliefs that these radical Islamic terrorists have.
3. On MSNBC's Meet the Press, GOP candidate Ben Carson told reporter Chuck Todd that he doesn't believe a Muslim would be fit for the Oval Office:
I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.
4. In January 2015, former governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal, also a former 2016 candidate, threatened the possibility of "no-go zones" for Muslims — who Jindal said want to "conquer" the U.S. — just as there are for non-Muslims in Europe.
If they want to come here and they want to set up their own culture and values that's not immigration, that's really invasion if you're honest about it.
5. In an interview with ABC, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that not all Muslims are radical jihadists, but went on to address Hillary Clinton's choice not to use the words "radical Islam" with a surprising comparison.
That would be like saying we weren't at war with the Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party, but weren't violent themselves.
6. And the grand finale: In December, Donald Trump called for the "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S., a system for tracking American Muslims and, in an effort to preemptively shut down critics, a moratorium on "political correctness."
I think there can be profiling. ... You have people that have to be tracked. If they're Muslims, they're Muslims.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Washington Post, "We discussed [a mosque visit] as an option of something powerful the president could do to speak directly to Muslim Americans," adding that the rhetoric "has really impacted him on a personal level in terms of how damaging he feels it is to this entire community."
Perhaps now that message will spread.