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.
In this Sunday’s (July 14) issues, two American newspapers reviewed two recent books that throw some light on the Christian West’s ongoing quarrel with the Muslim East.
One book looks at the purported violence visited by the Turkish Muslim leaders with the alleged purpose of cleansing their country of non-Muslim populations.
This occurred after the Western militaries had defeated the once-powerful Ottoman Empire. This is a cautionary tale with the not-openly-stated purpose of alerting why the West has to be mindful of the dangers posed by the growing Muslim populations in the countries of the area.
The other looks at the violence that has come to be associated with young men of colour and is committed for no particular reason. It blames society in which they are growing up for much of their behaviour.
In Trump’s America, the quarrel with Muslims and people of colour is acquiring a sharp tone. For instance on the day these reviews appeared, the US President issued a series of tweets aimed at four Congresswomen of colour who had become his vocal critics.
Two of these — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — are Muslims. The other two — Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressely — were born in the United States in families of colour. He suggested that these four lawmakers were not needed in the United States but could well serve the countries of their origin.
They should “go back to the countries they came from, rather than loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States how to run their country”, he said in a Tweet. After they have fixed their countries, they could return to the United States, said the President.
One has to admire US President Donald Trump‘s tenacity. Despite the many fiascos of his Middle Eastpolicy, he keeps going down the same path, with the same partners, come what may.
Since his first foreign trip landed him in Saudi Arabia and Israel two years ago, the president has been on a roll, trampling all over traditional liberal US policies, defying the United Nations, violating international law and heightening tensions in the Middle East – all at the request, or in support, of these special partners.
This trend intensified over the past few weeks. The White House overrode Congress to continue assisting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and lent its support to the renegade general, Khalifa Hafter, during his assault on the Libyan capital, Tripoli. It also proclaimed the Syrian Golan Heights part of Israel and gave approval to the Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territories.
It tightened sanctions on Iran, designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp a “foreign terrorist organisation” and deployed carrier strike group battleships to the Gulf.
As a result of these policies, tensions throughout the region are escalating, yet the Trump administration won’t reconsider, let alone reverse any of them. It has only really done that once – when it stepped back from its hastily-taken position on the blockade of Qatarby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt two years ago.
Anxiety and fear were palpable among American Muslims last week after the mass slaughter in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand: Would a violent attacker enter their mosque, too? But even in their moment of vulnerability, one lawmaker insisted Muslims were the “real cause of bloodshed.” Fraser Anning, a senator in Australia, said the core problem was Islam.
“The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a 6th-century despot masquerading as a religious leader. … The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. … It is the religious equivalent of fascism,” he said. “And just because the followers of this savage belief were not the killers in this instance does not make them blameless.”
For many Americans, Anning’s statement may seem like an outlier — an extreme right-wing sentiment that does not reflect mainstream politics. But it taps into something strategic and concerted, the idea that “Islam is not a religion.” Islam, this idea suggests, is instead a dangerous political ideology, and therefore Muslims have no right to respect, dignity or First Amendment protection for religious liberty.
The argument has been circulating for some time, but it has gained ground in recent years, at least partly because the voices making the argument have a prominent platform in the Trump administration. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn said “Islam is a political ideology” that “hides behind the notion of it being a religion.” Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon have also questioned Islam’s status as a religion. Fred Fleitz, who in 2018 was named chief of staff for President Trump’s National Security Council, has said in the past
that American Muslims are susceptible to a “radical worldview that wants to destroy modern society, create a global caliphate and impose sharia law on everyone on Earth.”
On this anniversary of the Muslim ban, I can’t stop thinking about the 5-year-old American boy ensnared by the first iteration of the Muslim ban.
The still-unidentified citizen from Maryland was handcuffed and detained for hours, but the humiliation didn’t end there. Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to defend the indefensible by erroneously labeling him a potential “security threat.”
I was about the Maryland boy’s age when I came to the United States from Lebanon. Like many of those impacted by the executive order, my family had traded the uncertainty of war for the safer uncertainty of a new home in what my parents called, in their native Arabic, “Amreeka.”
In the days after the Muslim ban was instituted, I watched images of Muslim immigrants speaking to reporters after hours of detention and questioning.Again and again, reporters asked the travelers variations of the same question: “What do you say to America?”
“I love the American people,” they responded in a diversity of languages and dialects representing the gradations of a Muslim community globally impacted by the newly-inaugurated American president’s first Muslim ban. That order, subsequently struck down by the courts, suspended resettlement of refugees and barred the entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.