When hatred is legitimized

Sabria Chowdhury Balland

It is very difficult, if not impossible to notice that ever since January 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the United States has been exposed to issues of racial and religious stigmatization from the get-go. Just a few days after taking office, he issued his first “Muslim Travel Ban,” an unprecedented act targeting a religious community issued by a US government.

Moving forward to the mass shooting in two mosques which claimed the lives of 51 Muslims in New Zealand on March 15, 2019. To date, Donald Trump has not condemned the heinous attacks, nor did he condemn white supremacy and Islamophobia. What he did was to issue a nebulous statement of sympathy for the victims of the murderous attacks on mosques and for the people of New Zealand. When asked whether he thought there was a rise in white supremacy, he replied in the negative, before quickly moving on to another subject.

This is, unsurprisingly, completely false. According to FBI reports, the number of incidents involving hate crimes increased by 17% in 2017 compared to 2016 (in other words, after Trump took office). For perspective, between 2015 and 2016, the FBI reported a 5% increase.

This sharp rise in hate crimes is regretfully not astonishing. There is no denying that bigotry has existed in the United States prior to Trump, but what he has clearly done was legitimizing white supremacy, bigotry and Islamophobia.

This was shockingly evident just recently after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments regarding the colossal influence of Israel on many American politicians and US policies. She did not make anti-Semitic comments but nonetheless, she was fair game for all too many politicians from the Republican Party to unleash their Islamophobic rants. It went so far as to post a photo of the Congresswoman under one of the twin towers on 9/11 with the words “Never forget” you said. I am proof-you have forgotten.” The intention of the vulgar display of this bigotry was an attempt to link Omar to the 9/11 attacks, simply because she is a Muslim. Let us not lose sight of the fact that this was done by the Republican Party at a public gathering.

The legitimization of Islamophobia has been demonstrated and seen time and time again by the Trump administration with pin drop silence from Trump himself. Not surprising from a person who has called neo-Nazis “very fine people” after the Charlottesville riots when white supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

When elected lawmakers promote hate and bigotry, when the president promotes hate and bigotry, is it surprising that the New Zealand terrorist praised Trump as “a symbol of white identity and common purpose?” Trump not only does not condemn white supremacists nor the members of his political party, his actions and rhetoric lead us to believe that he concurs with them.

There is a deep-rooted, fundamental problem in Western Islamophobic understanding of terrorism. They believe that the horrific rhetoric and actions of terrorist groups are, for reasons unbeknownst to the veritable believers of Islam, the mainstream ideas of the religion, the bedrock of the faith of 1.8 billion people worldwide.

If members of the Ku Klux Klan commit an atrocity, the foundations of Christianity and all of its adherents are not blamed and shunned. So how did this become the new normal with regards to Islam? Terrorist attacks carried out by so-called Islamic terrorist groups have never once been endorsed and have in fact been strongly condemned by Muslim leaders, religious or political, and by the Muslim population. Ironically, Muslims have by large been the victims of terrorist acts, but this fact gets overshadowed in the continual blame game of Islamophobia.

Regretfully, we cannot say that the white supremacist movement is not endorsed by politicians. The ideology has been incited by mainstream politicians in Europe for years and has now been given the ultimate seal of approval by the president of the United States and many members of his party. George Washington stated in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving to all occasions their effectual support.” Thus began the multicultural, multi-religious America. Disputing and vilifying this America is not only tantamount to bigotry, it is a grave violation of what the founding fathers intended and desired for this great nation.