Islamophobia on the Rise Due to President 45: An Op-Ed
By Yousra Jouglaf
“[I call for] a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” At the time this statement was made, Donald Trump was the Republican frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election. Less than a year later, Trump beat out Democratic-nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, laying claim to the presidency in a surprising win. However, three years later, and in the face of rising white supremacy and its supporters, his win no longer seems so surprising. Trump’s rhetoric against ethnic minorities caused what can only be described as the rebirth of xenophobia; white supremacists across the country and the world began to come out of hiding, finding warmth under the spotlight Trump cast for their bigoted beliefs to finally show. Two dates now haunt the Muslim community for the rest of their lives: 9/11 and 11/9, the date Trump became the U.S. President-elect.
Upon Donald Trump’s taking of office, he has not been shy about his condescension of non-white communities. White supremacy has been on the rise since his term began — in 2017 alone, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported 8,126 hate crime offenses with 8,493 victims. In an analysis on single-bias incidents, the FBI reported that 58.1% of those hate crime incidents were motivated by race, with an additional 22% prompted by religious bias. These incidents share a common denominator: bigotry on the rise. Americans across the nation have serious concerns about the rise of bigotry and white supremacy; in a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 63% percent of 1,238 surveyed voters nationwide responded “yes” to a question asking whether Trump’s election has increased prejudice and hatred in the United States. Ethnic minorities and their white counterparts alike voted similarly, with genuine concern for the safety of their families and their neighbors.
This concern has become a serious plight for Muslims around the world and in the United States. But the increase in concern begs the question of what caused it in the first place, and moreover, how does one become a radicalized white supremacist to begin with? White supremacists are commonly misconceived as “disaffected white guy[s] with economic anxieties.” Research conducted by Kathy Blee of the University of Pittsburgh, an expert in white extremism, shows that this misconception is not only untrue, but very dangerous. It’s casual viewers, usually white males, belonging to the middle class who are drawn into the white supremacy movement. White supremacist groups pander to the specific fears of these viewers, targeting people “who are aimless, marginalized, isolated, and quite extreme in their thinking.”
In the United States alone, there has been a steep increase in white supremacy-motivated hate crimes since Trump’s reign began. White supremacists in the U.S. have been linked to at least 50 deaths within the last year, whereas “Islamist extremism directed at Westerners has dropped dramatically.” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California University, San Bernardino noted that, “This threat of homegrown, far-right-wing white nationalism, terrorism, and extremism is the most prominent threat facing our nation.” As polarization continues to plague our country, the targeted groups for hate crimes have been immigrants and foreigners, with special focus on Muslims and Jews. As the rise in hate crimes continues, we see little national leadership and sensitivity from Donald Trump, whose most recent comment on the rise of white supremacy was to defer blame to “a small group of people ‘with very, very serious problems.’” Trump blatantly denied the existence of a “worrying rise” in white supremacy.
The “small group of people” he referred to, however, did not find the spotlight for their supremacy to shine on their own. In fact, Brenton Tarrant, the New Zealand terrorist who took the lives of 50 Muslims, had an 80-page manifesto in which he praised Trump, mentioning him by name because he “saw him [Trump] as a symbol of renewed white identity.” When questioned about the Charlottesville, Virginia event where white nationalist marchers met counter-protesters in a violent riot, Trump’s response did not decry the white nationalists. Instead, Trump took to Twitter to define the nationalists as “very fine people.” When questioned about his endorsement from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Trump noted he would not want to unequivocally condemn them and refuse their support without knowledge of the group and the people in it; instead, he noted there are members of the KKK that may be “totally fine”, and disavowing their support without personally knowing them “would be very unfair.” This is the same man who ran on a platform classifying all Mexicans as “rapists and drug dealers”, and Muslims as “radical Islamic terrorists” deserving of a “Muslim ban”. Trump’s rhetoric is clear: when it comes to minorities, the act of one man speaks for his entire race or religion. Yet when it comes to white supremacists, he can only refer to them as “very fine people”.
On March 14th, 2019, New Zealand’s Muslim Christchurch community gathered at the Masjid al Noor Mosque for Friday prayers, the holiest day of the week for Muslims as they pray “Jumu’ah” together in an act of congregational worship. Muslims gather at different mosques for worship and to “develop unity, cooperation, and cohesiveness” within both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. It is meant to be a day of peace, love, and worship. It is now, however, a day that has been slightly tainted with the fear of untimely death as Muslim worshippers and their family members alike have sought to reduce their attendance for fear of attack. Now, when devout Muslims return for Jumu’ah prayer, they may no longer be picturing a peaceful house of worship; instead, they may see Brenton Tarrant’s unapologetic face flashing a symbol of white supremacy at his initial sentencing.
Trump’s rhetoric has undeniably played a large part in the rise of white supremacy. From the very beginning of his campaign, Trump has targeted minorities as cause for the different issues plaguing our country. He has emboldened white supremacists and other extremists by displacing blame on innocent minority groups, causing a larger rift and further polarizing an already divided nation. Trump centered his campaign platform around appealing to the right-wing supremacists who have caused the very trauma minorities are experiencing today. He constructed an “Us v. Them” narrative, defining Muslims as a violent threat to the safety of American citizens. This xenophobic rhetoric resonated with extremists who had been searching for further reason to hate their Muslim neighbors, because if the president can speak hatefully toward Muslims, then why can’t they? It gave them the permission they needed to come out of hiding, for they finally had a president who shared the same sentiments about minorities they did. Trump ostensibly legitimized and lent credibility to their fear, and that was all white-supremacists needed to inspire their violence-driven views and actions.
Trump’s rhetoric may not be the proximate cause of the rise of xenophobia, racism, and hate crimes, but it is surely the ground by which white supremacists have found their footing. Trump has played an integral role in heightening the fears white supremacists already held, and his continued denial of white supremacy’s rise only furthers legitimizes its existence. Not condemning the acts of terror against the Muslim community (both nationwide and internationally) as acts of terrorism stemming exactly from white supremacy is an issue in itself. The blind eye Trump has turned numerous times against minority communities is the same eye which sends a wink of approval to extremists looking for a reason to incite violence and murder communities of color. The notion of white supremacy is rooted in the belief that the Caucasian race reigns supreme above any and all others, and Trump’s refusal to discount such a notion only further fuels the fire that will eventually overwhelm us all.
When that day comes, the Muslim community will open its arms to any and all seeking help. And we will open our arms just as Christchurch’s first victim, Hajj-Daoud Nabi did, with a “Welcome, brother.” We can only hope the rest of the world will do the same.
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