The U.N. human rights chief on Tuesday denounced Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States as “grossly irresponsible” as it potentially put migrants in harm’s way and plays into the hands of extremists seeking to drive a wedge between Western governments and their Muslim citizens.
Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told a small group of reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the Republican presidential front-runner’s remarks run contrary to American traditions of religious and political liberty.
“The United States is a republic founded on the dignity of the individual, the rights of the individual,” said Prince Zeid, a member of the Jordanian royal family who previously served as Amman’s ambassador to the U.N. and the United States. “The danger of classification and categorization … dehumanizes, it can lead to victimization of the innocent.”
“Clearly, while there is no love lost for those who perpetrate violence and the killings of civilians, it is a double tragedy when the innocent have to suffer because of the reaction,” Prince Zeid said.
Hours later, the Associated Press reported that Trump would visit Jordan at the end of December in what appeared to be an attempt to quell the political furor caused by his remarks, which he first made Monday and then repeated Tuesday. But within minutes, Trump tweeted, “Despite my great respect for King Abdullah II, I will not be visiting Jordan at this time. This is in response to the false @AP report.”
Prince Zeid, a Muslim himself, said the anti-immigrant sentiment reflected in Trump’s remarks is only the latest example of a worrying trend in the United States and Europe among conservative political leaders who have fanned public fears about the arrival of Muslim refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. He also said it was undercutting the efforts of those “who are trying to reverse or contain the effects of violent extremism.”
Prince Zeid’s rebuke of Trump came hours after foreign leaders, including key U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State, sharply criticized the billionaire real estate mogul for unfairly tarring the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. On Twitter, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote Tuesday that “Trump, like others, stokes hatred … our only enemy is radical Islamism.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s remarks “divisive, unhelpful, and quite simply wrong.”
But Trump was largely unapologetic. In an interview Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America, Trump defended his words, comparing his proposal to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who imposed restrictions on American citizens of German, Italian, and Japanese ancestry following Japan’s 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese-Americans has long been considered an historical injustice.
“What I’m doing is no different than FDR,” Trump said.
Prince Zeid said it was unfair of Trump to single out all Muslims for the crimes of a “small majority” of extremists who are “creating great harm to many people.”
“It’s grossly irresponsible, given what the aim of these extremists is, to play into their hands,” Prince Zeid said. “The vast majority of Muslims would be viewed as eligible targets by these extremist groups.”
“It’s not a case of the West versus Islam — it’s a case of violent extremists on the one hand and the rest,” he added. “We [Muslims] could be just as victimized by these groups as Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and the rest.”
Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images