The emboldening of bigotry and hatred is just one of the toxic facets that the current president of the United States campaigns upon. One of the targets of this hate is the Muslim community. From his earlier days of attempting to “slander” Barack Obama by claiming he was secretly Muslim, to his “Muslim ban” of 2017, Donald Trump has used this community to play upon fear and xenophobia. The new Netflix documentary Ghosts of Sugar Land briefly attempts to explore the ramifications of an anti-Muslim atmosphere through an intimate lens of friendship, personal faith, and extremism in the town of Sugar Land, Texas. The results are mixed, but provide impactful moments to inspire conversation.
Directed and co-written by independent filmmaker Bassam Tariq (These Birds Walk), with co-writer Thomas Niles (Phantom Cowboys) the short documentary provides testimony of a group of suburban Muslims from the town of Sugar Land as they attempt to reconcile the disappearance of a close friend and the consequences of his actions. Their friend, given the codename Mark in the film, is Warren Christopher Clark. Clark is a young Black man and childhood friend of the group who, in 2018, would go on to travel to Syria to join the extremist organization Islamic State (ISIS). Clark would eventually be captured by U.S.-backed forces in Syria and forced to face charges of terrorism. The film was produced shortly before Clark’s capture.
One called President Trump’s decision “an egregious act of betrayal.” Another said the policy could be “the biggest mistake of his presidency.” A third said Mr. Trump “is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven.”
Conservative Christians have ardently stood by Mr. Trump at most every turn, from allegations of sexual misconduct to his policy of separating migrant families at the border and the Russia investigation.
But this week, some of Mr. Trump’s top evangelical supporters broke rank to raise alarms over his move to withdraw troops from Syria, which prompted Turkish forces to launch a ground and air assault against a Kurdish-led militia that has been a crucial ally in the American fight against ISIS.
As Turkish warplanes began to bomb Syrian towns on Wednesday, the prominent evangelist Franklin Graham called for Mr. Trump to reconsider his decision, and worried that the Kurds — and the Christian minorities in the region they have defended — could be annihilated.
“We have many friends in the Kurdish areas,” said Mr. Graham, whose humanitarian organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has done relief work in the region. “We know people on the ground.”
The concern resonated for many conservative evangelicals who have supported Mr. Trump, and called into question his much-touted commitment to religious freedom, a top value for his base. The opposition has arrived at an inopportune time for the president. The administration is weathering a heated battle with Congress, and according to a Fox News poll, more than half of voters now support the president’s impeachment.
To some public figures in our country, it’s forever open season on Muslims in America. Jeannine Pirro, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and even our President continue to disingenuously portray Islam as a threat to all Americans. But should you really fear the brown guy sitting next to you on the airplane (and Muslims come in all skin colors); your Muslim coworker, the kid at school with the “funny” name, your next-door neighbor?
Muslims currently make up a little over 1 percent of the total U.S. population. The fact that their representation has finally started making headway in our government has triggered hysteria that shows no signs of abating, particularly amongst the many Republicans who seem to be making some shabby sort of career out of bullying Muslims and immigrants.
But President Trump and his loyal supporters aren’t just bullying a minority, though this would have been bad enough. They are pitting their fellow Americans against one another, sowing division that undermines everything we’re supposed to stand for as a country.
There is no shortage of examples, but one in which Trump managed to offend both Jews and Muslims in the same breath readily springs to mind. At a press conference last month, he went on this memorable tangent: “…where has the Democratic Party gone, where have they gone, where their defending these two people [ Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib] over the State of Israel. And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
The statement sent shockwaves throughout America. Both Jewish and Muslim Americans felt targeted by the Presidents comments. Jewish Americans that voted in favor of Democrats were being labeled as “disloyal” to the United States. Muslim Americans sat horrified at the onslaught of yet another Islamophobic attack by their President.
Pitting Americans against one another goes against the core principles instilled in me as a United States Marine. And questioning the loyalty of both Jewish and Muslim Americans to America by invoking the “you’re either with us, or against us” mindset is a dangerous game that puts the very core of what America is supposed to be about at risk.
During his campaign and presidency, Donald Trump has frequently targeted the Muslim community, both within and outside the United States. In 2015, Trump famously indicated he might support a “database” of Muslims living in the United States. In 2017, he succeeded in imposing restrictions on travelers to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries.
More recently, Trump has targeted two Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). They were among four Democratic members who he said in July should “go back” to their home countries, although all but Omar were born in the United States. Then just last week, he attacked them again and seemingly persuaded Israel not to allow them entry as part of a congressional delegation.
Implicit in Trump’s comments, and in much of the criticism of Tlaib and Omar, is that they are not fully “American.” This is a problematic implication for two reasons. First, surveys show that, in fact, Muslim Americans are highly patriotic and mirror non-Muslims socioeconomically. Second, new research shows that even implicitly framing Muslim and American identities as separate may reduce Muslim Americans’ willingness to engage in politics.
I’ve seen personally what hate looks like. Back in the 1990s, as a young criminal defense attorney, I represented young men in two different cases who were eventually acquitted after being charged for defending themselves against white supremacists.
Ever since then, I’ve closely followed how the far right’s language and images have leached into society; how it tries to justify its existence while concealing its violence; and how it’s become a globally connected movement.
Recently, we’ve seen white supremacist violence escalate dramatically around the world, from the Pittsburgh and San Diego synagogue shootings to the murder at the anti-racist Charlottesville rally in the US; from the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand to last month’s surgical assassination of liberal German politician Walter Lübcke.
Not only did these killers share an ideology, but they drew inspiration from and celebrated each other. Despite this, under Donald Trump’s leadership, the FBI and Department of Justice have deprioritised investigating far-right violence.
These seemingly disconnected events are part and parcel of an emerging, global far-right movement whose core ideology is anathema to democracy. It uses nationalism as its cover, but make no mistake: its basic value is white supremacy.
In August 2017, three men from rural Illinois—members of one of our country’s numerous heavily armed and rather poorly regulated “militias”—drove to Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis, to plant an IED in the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center. Following their arrest, two of the men admitted their guilt. They had set out from Illinois, they said, determined to scare Muslims into leaving the United States.
“Why,” he asked, “don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came?”
As the fact-checkers noted in their analyses of Trump’s newest “New Low,” only Omar was born in another country. For once, the president took the Pinocchios to heart: He homed in on Omar in a diatribe at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, a few days later, running through a litany of generically Islamophobic claims until the enthused crowd began chanting, for 13 uninterrupted seconds, “send her back.”
Editor’s Note:This working paper is part of a multi-year Brookings project—”The One Percent Problem: Muslims in the West and the Rise of the New Populists.” Other papers in the series are available here.
Despite representing a little more than one percent of the total U.S. population, American Muslims have long been viewed with suspicion by their fellow citizens. This has been true since the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis in the late 1970s, but American attitudes toward Islam turned especially negative following the September 11 terrorist attacks, which many American commentators blamed directly on Islamic religious doctrines.
The political right in the United States, on average, has exhibited more suspicion of Islam and Muslims than the political left, and many conservative media personalities have expressed considerable hostility towards Muslims. Other conservative political and intellectual leaders have called for religious tolerance, however. Thus, conservatives in the electorate have received mixed messages from elected Republicans and conservative opinion leaders. American attitudes toward Islam and Muslims became an especially important subject after Donald Trump was elected president on a right-wing populist platform that explicitly called for a ban on Muslim immigration. This paper examines Trump supporters’ views on questions of Islam, immigration, and national identity. Beyond asking whether Trump’s supporters favor exclusionary policies, I investigate how strongly these supporters feel about Islam, considering whether opposition to Islam is a critical part of their political worldview, or just one element of a broader nativism.