On the morning of November 29, 2017, the President of the United States re-tweeted a series of videos allegedly depicting Muslim acts of violence against Christians and Christian symbols. They had originally been posted by a member of the far right, nationalist Britain First group. It was an outrageous act of bigotry and hatred on the part of the President. It may also prove to be an act of incitement—a further act of incitement, I should say. After all, this was no isolated incident. It’s part of a clear pattern of hateful rhetoric and action directed at a specific religious community that has already contributed to a dangerous environment for American Muslims.
During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The reason he gave was terrorism. “We cannot let this evil continue,” he declared during a speech in Florida in September 2016. “Nor can we let the hateful ideology of radical Islam . . . be allowed to reside or spread within our country.” For Trump, as for many of his followers, there existed a fundamental connection between Muslims and terrorism (or “radical Islamic terrorism” as he made sure to call it at every opportunity).
Driving the connection home even more forcefully, he declared in August 2016 his intention to “screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles — or who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.” Sharia, or Muslim religious law, Trump was saying, and terrorism were inherently related. Terrorists are Muslims. Muslims are terrorists. Where could there be a place for such a demonized group within Trump’s American national community? What are the consequences of such a message being relentlessly driven home?