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Some Trump Advisers Have Made Anti-Muslim Comments In The Past


We've heard plenty of debate over whether President Trump's executive order on immigration should be defined as a Muslim ban or something else. Let's consider, though, a more basic question here - what do the president and his advisers think of Islam? The president and his aides have linked the problem they're attacking to the religion itself, so let's hear how they do that. NPR's Tom Gjelten has covered both national security and religion over the years, so he's the perfect person to ask.

Hi, Tom.


INSKEEP: How does the president frame the problem?

GJELTEN: The phrase that President Trump likes to use is radical Islamic terrorism. That's the ideology, he says, we have to fight. Fighting it, he says, is the whole idea behind this refugee ban. He could not be more clear. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don't want them here.

GJELTEN: So he's trying to talk narrowly about a particular category of Muslims, the bad guys. But he hasn't always been so clear in his thinking. And remember, in an interview with CNN last March, he said I think Islam hates us.

INSKEEP: And he was originally calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the United States.

GJELTEN: He was, and then he backed off with that. After the election, he told Scott Pelley of CBS, I love Muslims. So we're going to have to wait and see what he says going forward. You can be sure Muslim-Americans are going to be following every word.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's the president. Let's talk about some of his advisers - first, the national security adviser Michael Flynn.

GJELTEN: Michael Flynn - General Michael Flynn, who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and Iraq, knows how important it is to have good relations with Muslims. But he's been really loose in the way that he talks about Muslims, talks about Islam - most notably last August in a speech in Dallas. This is what he said there.


MICHAEL FLYNN: Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It hides behind this notion of it being a religion.

GJELTEN: Of course, Steve, it is a religion with 1.6 billion adherents worldwide. And then he goes on to liken it to cancer.


FLYNN: I've gone through cancer in my own life. And so it's like cancer. And it's like a malignant cancer, though, in this case. It has metastasized.

GJELTEN: Nothing very nuanced there, Steve.

INSKEEP: And this is so different from what other officials have said because they want to try to keep as many as possible of those 1.6 billion Muslims on the U.S. side.

What about the president's adviser Steve Bannon?

GJELTEN: Yeah, we've actually heard that he was the one most responsible for writing this refugee ban. Now, it's fair to say that he, too, has had some pretty extreme views on Islam. He's gotten a lot of attention for a speech he gave to a group in the Vatican in 2014, where he laid out a pretty apocalyptic perspective portraying the United States and Western civilization in some kind of epic struggle. Now, the audio here is not great. He was speaking via Skype, but you can get what he said.


STEVE BANNON: We are in an outright war against jihadist, Islamic fascists.

GJELTEN: And then, Steve, he goes on to use the same word that General Flynn used. He said it's metastasizing.

INSKEEP: Metastasizing - so they talk about this as a cancer. What about some of the other advisers around the president, though?

GJELTEN: Well, that's a really important question. His defense secretary, General James Mattis, has been - is very well-read. He, too, has a lot of experience in the field. He's far more careful about what he says about Muslims and Islam. And he's going to have the responsibility of working with Muslim allies - the same for General John Kelly, Homeland Security secretary.

So I think that the key thing going forward, Steve, is - who does Donald Trump listen to? Does he listen to people like General Mattis and General Kelly, or does he defer to his more extreme advisers?

INSKEEP: Mattis was interesting in his confirmation hearing. He said I've never fought in an all-American formation. They're always relying on allies.

Tom, thanks very much.

GJELTEN: You bet, Steve.


Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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