As the election cycle begins, expect Trump to supersize his favorite tactic
Comment: President Trump has made Islamophobia one of the defining features of his presidency, writes Mobashra Tazamal. US President Donald Trump's actions in the first weeks of 2020 sent a clear signal about what lies ahead this election year. From ordering the assassination of a top Iranian general, despite the US not being formally at war with Iran, to threatening to bomb the country's cultural sites protected under international law, the twitter-loving leader is sure to make 2020 just as unstable, chaotic, and dangerous as every previous year of his presidency.
Just days after the threat to bomb protected sites in Iran, and with it publicly vowing to commit war crimes, President Trump again took to Twitter to communicate his thoughts and feelings. This time, he retweeted a photoshopped image of Democratic members of Congress dressed in a turban and headscarf. Not only does the image mock how many Muslims dress, but the White House's defense of Trump's action also re-deployed one of the most dangerous anti-Muslim tropes . Trump's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham went on Fox News and stated : "I think the president is making clear that Democrats are parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill Americans."
Simply put, the President of the United States equated Muslims to terrorism and greenlit the perception that certain attire (in this case turbans and head scarfs) equals terrorist. The dangers of this cannot be underscored enough.
Trump knows what his base likes so he continues to feed it to them
President Trump's words have been used by perpetrators when committing anti-Muslim hate crimes. A 2018 report by researchers at the University of Warwick showed a "correlation between the number of Trump's tweets in a given week that used keywords related to Islam and the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes that followed." Another 2018 report released by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) found that "of the 213 documented incidents of hate violence post-election, perpetrators in approximately 1 out of every 5 incidents (21 percent) referenced President Trump, a Trump policy, or a Trump campaign slogan."
Most importantly, those who are visibly Muslim, for example, women who wear the hijab, burqa, or niqab , are more likely to be targeted in hate crimes. Additionally, even those who aren't Muslim but are mistaken as such, e.g. Sikhs who wear turbans, have been the victims of hate crimes. It was a Sikh man, Balbir Sodhi Singh , who was the first person killed in the United States in revenge attacks following 9/11; Singh's murderer assumed him to be Muslim because of his turban and beard. Trump's tweet only reaffirms the long-held and state-supported discriminatory belief that Muslims are uniquely tied to terrorism.
This isn't new for Trump. He has a long history of promoting Islamophobia . His 2016 presidential campaign was rife with anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies. It was a little over four years ago now that he boldly called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" in a campaign press conference. An analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino found that in "the next 10 days, reported hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs nationwide spiked 23 percent."
This is a man who has stated : "There is a Muslim problem, absolutely," and claimed , "I think Islam hates us." He defended white supremacists following the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, exclaiming the demonstration included "some very fine people," and asserting , "I think there is blame on both sides." In the same year, he retweeted British neo-fascist hate group, Britain First , whose leaders were jailed for hate crimes against Muslims. Additionally, President Trump has elevated the words of right-wing British media personality, Katie Hopkins , by retweeting her on multiple occasions. Hopkins has called for a "final solution" for Muslims.
The leader of the United States has an affinity for Islamophobia. It's a tried and tested tactic, which he deployed throughout his campaign and his presidency. Last year, he repeatedly targeted the newly-elected Somali-American Minnesota Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar . In April 2019, Trump posted a video tying the freshman representative to the attacks on 9/11, which resulted in the Muslim congresswoman receiving an increased number of death threats .
Trump's tweet reaffirms the state-supported discriminatory belief that Muslims are uniquely tied to terrorism
He calmly stood as the crowds at his July 2019 rally in North Carolina chanted, "Send her back," referring to Representative Omar. Georgetown-affiliated research organisation, The Bridge Initiative, notes that this phrase "has a long , racist history, and that the US government officially considers it discriminatory harassment in employment." Earlier in the month, Trump went on a Twitter tirade targeting four US Congresswomen of colour (including Rep. Omar) stating they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
In this year's election campaign, we can expect more rampant Islamophobia. Just days after the third anniversary of the Muslim ban , the Trump administration announced an expansion of the discriminatory policy, which now includes Myanmar, Nigeria, Eriteria, and Kyrgyzstan. Individuals from Sudan and Tanzania will also be barred from receiving the diversity visa lottery. All of these countries have a sizable Muslim population and Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar since 2017 to escape genocide .
Trump knows what his base likes so he continues to feed it to them. A 2019 Brookings article found that "intolerance of Islam is one hallmark of Trump supporters, setting them apart from other Republicans in the electorate." But it's important to note that Trump isn't the first to partake in anti-Muslim bigotry. The GOP has long peddled Islamophobia, and anti-Muslim sentiment exists all along the political spectrum .
We can expect Trump to amp up the anti-Muslim rhetoric at times when he wants to divert attention
But President Trump has made it one of the defining features of his presidency. He's platformed individuals who were once on the fringes by welcoming them into the White House, and amplified and mainstreamed anti-Muslim attitudes. So this election cycle, we can expect Trump to amp up the anti-Muslim rhetoric at times when he wants to divert attention (i.e. impeachment trial), or energise his base. He'll continue to partake in Islamophobia and xenophobia, given how well it pays off in the polls, and disturbingly enough, simply because he can.
There has never been unanimous condemnation from politicians across party lines in holding this president to account for all of the bigotry and racism he consistently peddles. Given the normalisation of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies in American society, we can only expect the president will continue to deploy his favorite tactic as the 2020 Presidential campaign begins. Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah. Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
2020-02-04 | Comment | English | Al-Araby