You know things are bad in your country when the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan praises the U.S. president for retweeting misleading videos about Muslims, peddled by a right-wing hate group from England whose leader was convicted of a hate crime last year.
But that is exactly where we find ourselves.
President Donald Trump’s latest Twitter controversy revolved around him sharing three murky videos purporting to show violent acts by Muslims. The original tweets were sent out by a leader of the right-wing Britain First party: felon Jayda Fransen, 31, who was convicted last year of “religiously aggravated harassment” for verbal abuse of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in front of her children. The British government sharply rebuked Trump, which prompted the president to lash out Wednesday night at Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the retweets, saying that even though the videos were unverified and at least one didn’t show what Fransen said it did, that doesn’t matter: “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.”
Sadly, it was just the latest outburst of Islamophobia from Trump.
“I think Islam hates us,” he told CNN last year. But the thread runs through his entire (relatively short) political career. Trump began his whole “birther” controversy against President Barack Obama by publicly suggesting during a 2011 ABC television interview that Obama was trying to conceal his religion by withholding his birth certificate, because “maybe it says he’s a Muslim.”
In November 2015, he told radio host Sean Hannity that the United States had “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques in response to terrorist attacks in Paris that month. A few days later, during a campaign rally in Alabama — which included a physical altercation between a black protester and several white supporters — Trump suggested that law enforcement should monitor Islamic houses of worship nationwide: “I want surveillance of certain mosques, if that’s OK.” The crowd cheered. He kept at that theme all through 2016, including telling Fox News that “we have to be very strong in terms of looking at the mosques” across the country.
If surveillance of our religious institutions didn’t go far enough, Trump also declared all Muslims should have to register with the government. “I would certainly implement that,” he said, referring to a national database of Muslims. “. . . Absolutely.” When reporters asked whether Muslims would be legally obligated to sign into the database, Trump responded, “They have to be — they have to be.” Later, reporters pressed Trump on how requiring Muslims to enter their information into a database was any different from how Nazi Germany required Jews to register. He responded by simply stating four times, “You tell me.”
He devoted enough rhetoric during the campaign to his insistence on banning all Muslims from entering the United States that several federal courts have now ruled his attempt to implement versions of the ban once in office was an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment. His tweets Wednesday could pose the same problem for the government’s case.
And Trump’s Islamophobia is not isolated to the Oval Office. Throughout the early part of his presidency, he surrounded himself in the White House with close advisers who have publicly stated that “Islam is not a religion of peace” (Stephen Bannon) and that violence is a fundamental part of Islam (Sebastian Gorka) and that Islam is “like a cancer” (Michael Flynn, whom Trump named national security adviser).
The primary duty of the president is to uphold our Constitution. From his earliest days in public life, Trump has appeared to go out of his way to fail to do that. Whether he’s targeting Muslims like me, going after other marginalized minority groups — women, Latinos, black people, people with disabilities, transgender people — or siding with racist and anti-Semitic neo-Nazis, Trump wages legal and emotional war on Americans instead of protecting our rights. No wonder the American Civil Liberties Union argued after the election that his policy proposals during the campaign would violate four of the 27 amendments to the Constitution.
In Trump’s America, millions of us are beginning to feel like strangers in a strange land. And when the president seeks to evoke hatred against any of us, it becomes the collective responsibility of people of conscience everywhere to condemn that.
Islamophobia has, unfortunately, gotten Trump to where he is. That makes resisting it all the more important now that he’s there.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, senior research fellow for the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University and author of “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies & Threatens Our Freedoms.”