I spoke to a few Republican friends before writing this piece. Some heard the title and said that this is going to be just another Trump bashing piece by a liberal news outlet.
It is not.
The Bush administration saw a 10-fold increase in hate crimes against Muslims following 9/11 but under the Trump administration they are at their highest than they have ever been in the past 26 years. So it is only pertinent that I ask the question: is Trump and his government Islamophobic?
Trump made a vow to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. during the 2016 campaign and briefly flirted with the idea of a “Muslim registry” – a revival of a Bush-era program that allowed the government to compromise the civil liberties of Muslim immigrants in America in the name of national security. He said on the campaign trail that “Islam hates us” and alleged without proof that ‘thousands’ of Muslims in New Jersey cheered as the twin towers came down (news reports reveal that some people did celebrate 9/11 attacks in the NY/NJ area but Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslims did and he saw it on television remains uncorroborated).
President Trump has also appointed several officials that have a track record of derogating Muslims and Islam. His former national security adviser John Bolton was the head of a far-right think tank, Gatestone Institute, that published pieces like Muslim immigration will wipe out Whites in Europe and that UK is now a “Islamist Colony.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo organized a briefing for Republican Congressmen by ACT for America – the largest anti-Muslim group in the country according to South Poverty Law Center and its founder Brigitte Gabriel was described by The New York Times Magazine as a “radical Islamophobe.”
In 2017, Trump broke away with decades of tradition by not hosting the annual Iftar dinner to commemorate the Islamic month of fasting. Last year he did organize the dinner but by that time all hope was lost for many Muslims.
“We do not need an iftar dinner,” Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University said. “Rather, we need to get the respect we highly deserve. Do not feed us and stab us.”
Hendi’s comment brings to mind a scene from HBO’s Game of Thrones, The Red Wedding, in which a king slays over 1500 members of another house after feeding them at a wedding feast meant to bring the two houses closer and Hendi represents the views of many prominent Muslims who do not want to engage with the Trump administration.
“No one in the Muslim community can look at his actions and think that he is a friend,” said Bilal Askaryar, who was one of the organizers of the counter-Iftar outside the White House the same day Trump hosted the Iftar dinner. “This is a man treating us like we don’t belong.”
According to the president’s public schedule, he has not met any Muslim American groups and while his meetings with faith leaders are overwhelmingly occupied by Christians, “they have been sprinkled with phone calls and holiday celebrations with members of the Hindu and Jewish American communities,” an honor he is yet to bestow on the Muslim community.
Days before Trump hosted the Iftar dinner, dozens of Palestinian demonstrators were killed and just under 3,000 injured for protesting the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The Arab League, the Muslim equivalent of the EU with 22 member states, said that the move was a “blatant attack on the feelings of Arabs and Muslims.”
“This is not an administration to engage, this is an administration to survive under and work toward the future,” said Linda Sarsour, a Muslim American activist and the co-chair of Women’s March 2017, the largest single-day protest in US history which was held a day after President Trump was inaugurated and in reaction to his statements.
Of the 3.45 million Muslims in America, 1.1% of total US population, over 70% believe Trump is unfriendly to them and just about the same percentage are scared of his presidency. 8% voted for Trump.
Is it fair to say that the Trump administration has problems with Muslims?
They inherited an America in which the public opinion against Islam was overwhelmingly negative long before Trump announced his run for the White House. Pew released a survey in 2014 which revealed that Muslims were the least favourable religious group and that sentiment is shared by Americans of every political affiliation.
But when you occupy the highest pulpit in the world your words may provide tremendous fuel to fire. At least one 2018 study indicate as much.
The study found correlations that indicate that “Trump’s tweets about Muslims have substantial forecasting ability for anti-Muslim hate crimes until about 3 or 4 weeks into the future.”
The study also revealed that an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes coincided with major events like Trump’s election day, his call for a Muslim ban and his tweets from 2016 about the terror attack in Brussels.
Still I want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt because Islamophobia is not unique to the U.S. A 2017 study conducted in 27 European countries said that hatred against Muslims is “thriving” in Europe. I say that because the fact is that Trump is our lawfully elected president and Muslims of America have no other option but to find a way to work with him and understanding the socio-political circumstances that led to his anti Muslim campaign messaging could help move beyond the differences. I have another reason.
Trump has an extremely non adventurous foreign policy and he is not financed by the war machine which to me, as a Pakistani immigrant who has seen first hand the devastation of American foreign policy in my country and the region, is great news. Most American leaders talked about defeating ISIS but Trump actually did it and now a slow withdrawal from Syria has begun and talks of a massive withdrawal from Afghanistan are underway and President Trump wants Muslims to deal with their own problems which is what we want (Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, recently challenged Trump’s claim on ISIS which is also known as Islamic State, ISIL or Daesh).
People often quote Obama and George Bush against Trump as presidents who had a better relationship with Muslims.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” Bush remarked days after the 9/11. “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Months later Bush launched never ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed millions of Muslims and displaced millions more. Is that not Islamophobia at its worst? Or when Obama dropped 26,000 bombs on Muslim countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan after statements like “…it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for — order, peace, prosperity.”
Muslims do not want to engage with Trump because he says things they don’t like but I don’t want anything to do with people who say positive things but their policies lead to insane wars in several Muslim lands.
A non interventionist government can still be Islamophobic.
Trump has on occasions chosen a more measured tone calling Islam “one of the world’s great faiths” and at least one time he drew a distinction between the 1.6 billion followers of Islam and the minority within them that are “bad and dangerous people.” But he has to make that distinction more often not just because it is a necessity but because that is the American way: we value individuality, that is what makes America greater than any president would like it to be.
If he doesn’t, he is contributing to a dangerous trend which will inevitably bring the scourge of Islamic radicalisation to American shores just like it has and is destroying many countries in Europe.
Trump’s actions “negatively impact the view toward Muslims in the United States, and it creates a situation where future generations might feel alienated or targeted,” said Ali Soufan, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and a former F.B.I. agent. “In Europe, in some communities, Muslims feel they are second-class citizens, and it’s these young kids who are questioning their identity who can become radicals and join ISIS.”
Soufan cautioned that though Trump’s messages appeal to his base, we have to be careful “not to bring cancer into the United States.”