Throughout his campaign and since becoming president, Donald Trump has embarrassed himself and the United States with his outrageous reactions to terrorist attacks. He has frequently used attacks to justify his “travel ban,” even though no terrorist attacks have been carried out by Muslim-American immigrants since he issued the bigoted executive orders.
In June, rather than offering his condolences and support to the United Kingdom, Trump instead sent an obnoxious tweet about his “travel ban.”
Then, he brazenly accused Qatar of “funding terrorism” despite authorizing sales of weapons worth $12 billion for that staunch U.S. ally. Trump’s tough talk on terrorism is usually just empty words. After promising again and again to send terrorism suspects to the controversial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, his administration sent an al Qaeda suspect to trial in Philadelphia. It’s unclear if Trump actually understands even the basics of counterterrorism, and some critics say he’s actually making the problem much worse.
In keeping with his anti-Muslim policy proposals, Trump seems to only care about terrorism if there is an attack perpetrated by Muslims. He largely ignored two attacks that killed three American service members here in the U.S. in May.
Despite his bluster about stopping terrorism, Trump seems willing to let politically motivated violence carried out by White supremacists slide. Trump only reluctantly (and belatedly) sent a single tweet about the horrific stabbing attack in Portland, Oregon, just before the alleged attacker there said he murdered two people out of “patriotism.”
Rather than risk insulting his (largely White nationalist) base by speaking out against White supremacy, Trump has apparently decided to stick with his Islamophobic campaign statements, and to speak out only about the threat posed by “radical Islamic extremists.”
Trump is not the only major public official who makes blatantly Islamophobic statements. For more than a decade, many within the Republican Party have embraced Islamophobic policies and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Republican leaders have placed anti-Muslim rhetoric at the core of their campaigns and agendas. They base their policy proposals on the hateful and obviously false stereotype that Muslims are more likely to become terrorists.
During the 2016 presidential election, Trump and his rivals for the Republican nomination, like Sen. Ted Cruz, raced to the bottom of the Islamophobic gutter. Cruz called for racial profiling by police to “patrol Muslim neighborhoods,” as though such an approach would prevent terrorist attacks. And, of course, Trump held an infamous press conference to announce his preposterous and hateful proposal for a “total and complete shutdown,” a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
As I describe in my new book, Islamophobia and Racism in America, the use of outright anti-Muslim bigotry is not confined to presidential elections. Some Republican lawmakers have used Islamophobia in state and local elections.
Recently, in the Georgia Sixth Congressional district special election, Republican-affiliated organizations ran incendiary television ads linking the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, to terrorism.
This bigoted approach has been closely associated with Republican politics since at least 2006, when President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and other prominent Republican officials used the buzzword “Islamo-fascism” to describe the “enemy” in the so-called War on Terror. In more recent years, Cruz, Trump and many other Republicans have made it a central point to describe the threat specifically from “radical Islamic terrorism.”
The truth, of course, is that terrorism is overblown as a danger in the United States — thankfully, it is rare. While no one would question the need to remain vigilant, at the same time it is important to recognize that only a tiny minority of Muslims engage in organized violence, and terrorist violence in the United States from non-Muslim perpetrators is as much of a concern.
But Republican leaders only talk about the threat from “radical Islamic terrorists,” because they believe that voters are more likely to respond to a threat from “outsiders” and not from “regular Americans” who plot terrorist attacks.
The stereotype — promoted from the current White House — that Muslims are a uniquely dangerous threat has created a dangerous climate of hate across the country. According to a study from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Muslims “disproportionately feel [the] negative effect” created by this climate.
More than two in five (42 percent) of Muslim-American families surveyed in 2017 reported that their children faced bullying because of their faith, compared with 23 percent of Jewish families and 20 percent for Protestant Christians. Muslims are more than twice as likely as Jewish and Christian travelers to get stopped at the border for additional screening. These are but a few examples of the problems exacerbated by Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Trump, unfortunately, has done much to fan the flames of anti-Muslim hatred. He has chosen to divide the country rather than uphold the basic American ideals of pluralism and equality. It almost seems that the White House is eager for a terrorist attack to happen, so that the president can say “I told you so” and double-down on his Islamophobic rhetoric and discriminatory proposals. Indeed, one of his senior advisers even tried to create a terrorist attack out of thin air.
If a terrorist attack with an apparently Muslim perpetrator actually happens during Trump’s presidency, expect the president and his enablers to immediately call for more outlandish restrictions on Muslim-American communities.
The “Muslim Ban” executive orders would be seen as just the beginning. Expect him to issue an executive order to the FBI and local law enforcement to conduct discriminatory surveillance of Muslim-American communities (which they have already been doing for more than 10 years).
It is even possible that the administration would dust off Reagan-era plans to create internment camps for Arab and Muslim-Americans — the legal ground here is unsettled, despite the horrific precedent set by the Japanese Internment in the 1940s. Given the president’s commitment to Islamophobia, the Trump administration will try to come up with creative ways to violate the civil rights of Muslim-Americans.
Oppose Islamophobia by following the advice from ISPU: participate in local and state elections, not just during the next presidential election in 2020. Join a group in your community that brings people together to work on social justice. Reach out to your representatives to express your opinion on bigoted, Islamophobic policies and programs. Organize an event with your friends and neighbors to support refugees, immigrants and the right for everyone in the U.S. to live in peace.
Erik Love is assistant professor of sociology at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, an expert at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and author of “Islamophobia and Racism in America” from New York University Press.