NEW DELHI — Donald Trump’s call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States drew widespread condemnation around the world Tuesday, including from British and French leaders and the U.N. refugee agency.
Citizens, politicians and refugee officials alike slammed the Republican presidential front-runner’s latest controversial statement, calling it hate speech and a disturbing sign of Islamophobia in a country rattled in recent weeks by large-scale terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s official religious body, dubbed Trump’s remarks “hate rhetoric,” and a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency expressed concern that they could jeopardize the ongoing refugee resettlement process.
While it is rare for a British prime minister to comment on contenders in the U.S. presidential race, Prime Minister David Cameron joined British politicians from all parties in condemning Trump’s remarks. Cameron said through a spokeswoman that he “completely disagrees” with Trump’s comments, which he regards as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”
The billionaire developer and reality television star, who polls show leads the field for the GOP presidential nomination, released a statement Monday calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Later Monday, Trump, 69, read the statement out loud at a rally in Charleston, S.C., where an enthusiastic crowd greeted him with cheers and chants of “Trump! Trump!” and “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
“We have no choice. We have. No. Choice,” Trump said, with a shake of his head. His statement may be politically incorrect, he said, “but I don’t care!”
Trump repeated his call for a ban in a television interviews Tuesday.
In Britain, Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters: “The prime minister has been very clear that, as we look at how we tackle extremism and this poisonous ideology, what politicians need to do is look at ways they can bring communities together and make clear that these terrorists are not representative of Islam and indeed what they are doing is a perversion of Islam.”
When asked if Cameron would be willing to meet Trump or whether he could be banned from Britain, his spokeswoman declined to answer, saying the questions were “hypothetical.”
London’s Metropolitan Police also weighed in, rebutting Trump’s comment that areas of the city are so radicalized that police are afraid for their lives.
“We would not normally dignify such comments with a response, however on this occasion we think it’s important to state to Londoners that Mr. Trump could not be more wrong,” a police spokeswoman said.
Any U.S. presidential candidate “is welcome to receive a briefing from the Met Police on the reality of policing London,” she added.
In France, where the ruling Socialists are in a pitched election battle with a far-right anti-immigrant party, Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday wrote on Twitter that "Trump, like others, stokes hatred and conflations: our ONLY enemy is radical Islamism."
Valls's implicit comparison was with the National Front party, which is poised to seize power in local legislatures around France in runoff elections on Sunday. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has seized on fears of Muslims and terrorism to create a potent ballot-box force even as mainstream voices in France have promoted moderation.
The heated rhetoric left many Muslims feeling bewildered, scared and angry. In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, for example, Syrians stranded in overcrowded, cold refugee camps said they worried that rising xenophobia could further complicate their hopes of seeking asylum in the United States.
“How can a country that always talks about human rights and freedom do this or even consider this?” said Bourhan Salem, 32, who fled to the Bekaa to escape the violence around his home in Syria’s Daraa province. “Do they know what we have suffered?”
In Geneva, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said Trump was speaking of “an entire population” but that his remarks particularly affect refugees.
“Our resettlement program selects the people who are the most in need,” she told reporters. The program of her agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is “religion-blind,” Fleming said.
“We are concerned that the rhetoric that is being used in the election campaign is putting an incredibly important resettlement program at risk that is meant for the most vulnerable people — the victims of the wars that the world is unable to stop,” Fleming said, according to Reuters news agency.
Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said that “prejudice or discrimination based on religion is totally against every convention that we know of in aiding people in humanitarian emergencies and of course in resettlement,” Reuters reported.
Dar al-Ifta, the official Egyptian religious body, said in a statement that Trump’s rhetoric "will increase tension" in the United States, which is home to millions of Muslims who are "peaceful and loyal American citizens."
And in Kabul, a property dealer named Timur Shah said Americans need to “rise up” and prevent Trump from becoming their leader.
“None of us deserve him. What he says is harmful for all of us and will help the Islamic State and fanatics on all sides,” Shah said.
Trump’s call also drew reactions from journalists and editorial writers throughout Europe and in Israel, where he is due to arrive for a visit later this month. Israeli columnist Chemi Shalev said the sight of the crowds cheering Trump evoked the early days of Nazi Germany.
“For some Jews, the sight of thousands of supporters waving their fists in anger as Trump incited against Muslims and urged a blanket ban on their entry to the United States could have evoked associations with beer halls in Munich a century ago,” Shalev wrote in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.
Trump’s comments were widely covered in the European media, with many outlets wondering if he went too far this time. The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung ran an editorial with the headline, “How Donald Trump is betraying America.”
London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper called the statement a “bombshell” even by Trump’s standards. The Guardian wrote that he was “further out of the mainstream than he has been at any point since announcing his candidacy.”
Trump’s comment garnered worldwide reaction on social media as well.
In Brazil, acclaimed journalist Patricia Campos Mello shared a Slate story on Trump on her Facebook page and commented: “There is no way for this guy to get more dumb.” One of the commenters responded, “There is, wait and see.”
One Saudi Arabian woman, Naveen Malek, said in a tweet: "We are facing a Third World War these days. The new leaders of intolerance are people such as Trump and the French far-right."
Trump has bolstered his popularity with a series of increasingly controversial remarks — on women, Hispanic immigrants, the disabled and Muslims. Yet he has remained solidly atop national polls among Republican presidential candidates since July, according to Real Clear Politics, except for a brief period in early November when he and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson were in a statistical dead heat.
Conventional political wisdom long expected him to fade from the race after an early peak, but he has defied such theories so far, prompting one Republican political operative to write a memo earlier this month detailing “the Trump phenomenon” and urging Republican candidates to adopt the “best elements” of his “anti-populist agenda.”
“Trump has given voice to the rhetoric of hatred which has always been in the American society in some form or another. Sometimes the hatred is for blacks, sometimes for communists. Today it is Muslims,” said Shahid Siddiqui, a former member of parliament in India, who edits the Nai Duniya Urdu newspaper and is the co-founder of a group called Inter-Faith Peace Foundation.
“Now that he has brought out the worst, it will be fought by all that is good in American society and democracy,” Siddiqui said. “Words of hatred should not just remain under the skin. If the boil has erupted, it will surely be countered by Americans themselves.”
Karla Adam in London, William Branigin in Washington, Michael Birnbaum in Brussels, William Booth in Jerusalem, Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin, Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi, Brian Murphy in Riyadh, Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Andrew Roth in Moscow, Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Suzan Haidamous and Hugh Naylor in Beirut contributed to this report.