PHILADELPHIA // While all five US presidential candidates condemned the terror attacks in Brussels, their reactions revealed sharp contrasts in their approaches to Muslims, terrorism and national security.
Most prominently, Donald Trump, the leading contender to represent the Republican Party, appeared on television several times through the day presenting his views on the ISIL threat. The terrorist organisation has claimed responsibilty for the series of explosions in Brussels on Tuesday that kllled 35 people and injured 200 others.
“Do you all remember how beautiful and safe a place Brussels was.” Mr Trump said on Twitter. “Not anymore, it is from a different world. US must be vigilant and smart.”
Speaking to Fox News, Mr Trump said that Brussels had become “a disaster city” because of the influx of Muslim immigrants. “Paris is … almost as bad”, he added.
Asked what he would do to protect the US from similar threats, Mr Trump reiterated an idea that has featured frequently in his campaign. “I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on,” he replied.
On NBC the same day, Mr Trump elaborated. Muslim immigrants, he said, “want to go by Sharia law. They want Sharia law. They don’t want laws that we have. And you say to yourself … how much of this do you take?”
In yet another interview, Mr Trump warned: “This is going to happen in the United States … We’re allowing thousands of people to come into the United States from Syria … We don’t know anything about them. And you watch what’s going to be happening.”
Ted Cruz, Mr Trump’s foremost opponent for the Republican Party candidacy, sounded nearly as alarmist, calling for tougher measures to fight “radical Islamic terrorism”.
“For years, the West has tried to deny [that] this enemy exists, out of a combination of political correctness and fear. We can no longer afford either,” Mr Cruz said.
Mr Cruz laid out his solution: “We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant Al Qaeda or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalised.”
Mr Trump called the latter “a good idea”.
Like Mr Trump, Mr Cruz has in the past also called for policies targeted at Muslims. Last November, he argued that only Christian refugees from Syria – and not Muslim ones – should be allowed refuge in the US.
Only Simon Kasich, the straggler among the three Republican contenders, articulated a more nuanced point of view.
“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with radical Islam,” Mr Kasich said. “Just because you happen to be Muslim doesn’t mean you want to destroy the West.” Mr Cruz’s proposed policies, he added, would only lead to “more polarisation”.
To Mr Trump’s suggestions that American security agencies should be able to use waterboarding and “a lot more” to interrogate terror suspects, Hillary Clinton – the Democratic frontrunner – said the US should not “resort to torture”.
“It’s wrong and it doesn’t work.”
Mrs Clinton also expressed solidarity with Brussels and Europe, saying “Today’s attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world.”
Responding to criticism from her Republican rivals for preferring to use the term “radical jihadist terrorism” instead of “radical Islamic terrorism,” Mrs Clinton dismissed this as “semantic games”.
In an interview with CNN, she admitted that “soft targets” in cities – like the airport and the train station that were targeted in Brussels – will now require heavier police security.
“We have to toughen our surveillance, our interception of communication,” she said. “We have to continually be learning and getting ahead of these thugs and criminals in order to prevent them doing what they did in Brussels.”
The other Democratic contender, Bernie Sanders, issued his statement later than everyone else, and offered only two apolitical paragraphs of condolence.
The “barbaric attack”, Mr Sanders said, was “another cowardly attempt to terrorise innocent civilians ... Today’s attack is a brutal reminder that the international community must come together to destroy ISIS. This type of barbarism cannot be allowed to continue”.