By Samir Kakli
(Op-Ed originally published in Miami Herald)
Reflecting on the damage done to our country during the Trump presidency, the worst of them was the division he caused through his hateful rhetoric against minorities, including his extensive anti-Muslim diatribes.
– In 2011 and 2012, Donald Trump suggested that President Obama was secretly Muslim. It wasn’t true, but what if he were? Was this an insult?
– At a rally in 2015, Trump nodded along when a supporter told him, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. When can we get rid of them?” Trump replied, “We need this question — we’re going to be looking at a lot of things”
– In 2015, Trump falsely claimed that thousands of Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks.
– In 2015, Trump makes his infamous call to ban all Muslims from the United States. A few days later, he tweeted the United Kingdom was “trying to disguise their massive Muslim problem”
– In 2016, Trump claims, “Islam hates us.”
After taking office, he appointed many Islamophobes to his team and inspired many others to come out and show their bigotry openly. One of them did so here in South Florida, declaring herself a “proud Islamophobe” and, sadly, was nominated by local Republicans to represent a South Florida district in Congress. She lost, but, tellingly, more than 150,000 people voted for this “proud Islamophobe”.
Taking inspiration from Trump’s hateful rhetoric, a terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 51 people at two mosques last year. The killer cited Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity.” Sadly, the White House failed to describe these attacks as the acts of terror that they were.
Words matter. The Muslim community faces vitriol and discrimination in countless ways, yet politicians, rather than responding with the loud public denunciation such bigotry deserves, instead have sought political gain by demonizing Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia is a multimillion-dollar industry generating fear; it also is an effective tool of public manipulation, commonly leveraged in election season. Research by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has shown that elections and the propaganda that’s spread during campaign season have a direct correlation with spikes of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The data indicate that elections affect this more than other factors that we would have expected, such as the 9/11 attacks.
The research also shows that people who self-report anti-Semitic sentiments are 32 times as likely to be Islamophobic. The more fear is spread throughout society, not only will hate crimes increase, but it also becomes easier for people to accept authoritarianism and prejudice. Muslims are the first to be affected by Islamophobia, but eventually everyone will be hurt, through loss of safety and freedoms.
As we enter a post-Trump chapter in our history, we must double our efforts against anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism. It also is critical we hold anti-Muslim bigots to the same standard that we would other bigots.