It’s no secret that President Donald Trump harbors a serious prejudice against Muslims. He has made that abundantly clear time and again, from his repeated efforts to promote a Muslim “travel ban,” in his voicing support to “strongly consider” closing down mosques, from his false claim that there is “no real assimilation” of even second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants, to his stating, “I think Islam hates us.” Trump’s latest expression of vile anti-Muslim sentiment comes, predictably, via his twitter account.
On Wednesday morning Trump retweeted three inflammatory videos from a bigoted, far-right leader of the Britain First Party, effectively stoking an already smoldering anti-Muslim atmosphere in both the UK and the United States. Setting aside the fact that at least one of the videos appears to be falsely represented, British leaders, to their credit, immediately recognized the toxic nature of Trump’s propaganda. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s office unequivocally condemned Trump’s resending of the videos, saying “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect.”
The British have every reason to see Trump’s promotion of blind bigotry as hostile to their national interests. Recall that when London suffered terrorist violence at the hands of Islamist extremists in June, Trump’s immediate response was to tweet attacks on the city’s mayor, no doubt because the popular mayor happens to be Muslim.
Trump’s most recent retweets have more broadly evoked revulsion across the world. A Los Angeles Times editorial cogently summed up the danger that the President’s latest social media messages represent, noting that they escalate “Trump’s demonization of Muslims,” and have “given aid and comfort to anti-Muslim bigots.”
It must be said that it takes but a few minutes for anyone with a computer and internet connection to come up with videos that show acts of violence perpetrated by any particular religious or ethnic group against another. If your goal is to stir up rage and hatred toward, say, Latinos, African-Americans, Buddhists, Christians, whites, or Muslims, all you need to do is Google videos of “group ‘x’ attacking group ‘y’” and voila, shocking and grotesque videos of all manner of assaults appear on your screen. Conveniently for someone like Trump, there are extremist right-wing bloggers that continuously collect and tweet out anti-Muslim videos, requiring but a tiny, lazy effort to further spread such hate propaganda.
Nevertheless, in direct contrast to the minimal effort required to broadcast such propaganda by the holder of the most powerful office in the world, the impact of these expressions of hate is huge. There’s no doubt that it is Muslims themselves who suffer first and foremost from the promotion of anti-Muslim hatred. The U.S. generally, and Minnesota specifically, are witnessing the growth of anti-Muslim attitudes, and a concomitant rise in acts of violence against followers of the Islamic faith. But in additional to Muslim victims of bigotry and violence, American democracy itself is diminished and harmed when we are encouraged to grow suspicious of and even despise our neighbors. Trump’s horrid misrepresentation of Muslims is deeply corrosive to the values that bond our communities together and allow us all to pursue the same values of “decency, tolerance and respect” that the British prime minister evoked.
When our neighbors’ places of worship and education are being violently attacked, as with the recent bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, we need to understand that these are not just attacks on Muslims, terrible as that itself is. They represent an attack on the core values of our society, and as such are a clear and present danger to our highest ideals as a society.
There is no reason to think that President Trump will rein in his destructive urge to undermine core elements of American society’s values, no matter the damage it causes. Therefore, now truly is the time for all people of good will to come to the aid of their country and stand up publicly against the corrosive hatred that would turn us against one another in ignorance and fear.
Brendan LaRocque, Ph.D., has taught about the history of Islam and Muslim societies at colleges including Macalester, Saint Olaf, Augsburg, Carleton, and Saint John and Saint Benedict.
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