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Fears of Islamophobia spike as Trump unveils anti-Muslim plan

He's "putting oil on what already was a bonfire,” says the national legislative director of CAIR.
Muslim women look on during a prayer vigil for the victims of the San Bernardino shooting at Baitul Hameed Mosque on Dec. 3, 2015 in Chino, Calif. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Muslim women look on during a prayer vigil for the victims of the San Bernardino shooting at Baitul Hameed Mosque on Dec. 3, 2015 in Chino, Calif.

Critics of Donald Trump’s radical plan to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. are warning of a potential spike in Islamophobia. They're afraid that, with Americans already rattled in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks, the GOP presidential frontrunner's fear-mongering could lead some people to lash out against Muslims. Indeed, they say, it may already be happening.

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The Council for American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, said there’s been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the past few weeks that hasn’t been seen since 9/11. That includes bomb threats, an alleged attack on a Muslim store owner in New York City by a customer who reportedly said  “I’ll kill Musims”, a hijab-wearing Muslim sixth grader who was allegedly attacked by schoolmates who called her “ISIS,” and a severed pig's head left at a Philadelphia mosque.

Corey Saylor, the national legislative director of CAIR, said he fears things could get worse.

“Trump is putting oil on what already was a bonfire,” said Saylor.

The billionaire business mogul’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, announced Monday, comes on the heels of Trump floating the idea of closing mosques and registering all Muslims into a national database. And it’s not just Trump. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have suggested allowing Christian refugees from Syria in the country—but not Muslims. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came under fierce criticism this fall after suggesting the president of the United States should not be a Muslim.

Of course, anti-Muslim sentiment following terror attacks or on the campaign trail aren’t anything new. We saw it after 9/11, in 2010 with plans to build a Muslim culture center –dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque”-- in lower Manhattan, and the 2013 Boston marathon bombings.

But Matt Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who has studied Islamophobia in America, noted that unlike in the past – when Sen. John McCain tamped down anti-Muslim bigotry in the 2008 election cycle or Mitt Romney in the 2012 cycle refusing to endorse a right-wing conspiracy that the U.S. was in danger of coming under Sharia law -- this time there’s “no leader in the Republican party playing the responsible adult.”

RELATED: Anti-Muslim panic threatens to cause lasting damage

Yes, plenty of Republicans have skewered Trump’s rhetoric since yesterday, “but it’s been a very long  time coming,” said Duss, lamenting some of the criticism has been on policy grounds -- that alienating Muslims will make us less safe -- and not on the basis of sheer human decency or morality.

How Trump’s latest plan plays out at the polls – and how it impacts the GOP as a whole --  remains to be seen. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus condemned Trump’s proposal, telling the Washington Examiner on Tuesday, “We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values.”

Still, Saba Ahmed, president and founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, said Trump is “damaging the Republican Party,” as a whole and predicted Muslim-Americans on the fence of whom to support could very well turn to the Democrats in light of Trump’s latest proposal.

Such Islamophobic rhetoric “seems like it’s getting worse and worse every day,” said Ahmed, who said she’s “absolutely appalled by Trump’s anti-Islamic sentiment and unconstitutional plans.” Ahmed added,  “He’s just trying to play on people’s fears to increase his poll numbers.”