When I was a young girl, like most Americans, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. As I read about young Anne hiding in the secret annex fearing for her life, I wondered what kind of political environment led to such terror. How people allowed it to get so bad. And, later, when I was a teenage girl, I followed closely the Bosnian war. Reading the newspaper and watching the news about the men being slaughtered and women being raped and, again, I tried to imagine what the world looked like right before these atrocities started.
I look around at the world today, and think I may be looking at the political climate that resembles that of Pre-Nazi Germany and 1992 Bosnia before the war. A time when the racists, the passive racists and the complicit stand by as the “others” are demonized by the state.
The president has tweeted some pretty outrageous and abusive tweets in the past about other communities, such as women, immigrants, Black Americans- anyone he considers an “other.”
On November 29, 2017, he tweeted something extremely terrible and offensive regarding Islam and Muslims.
As the President of the United States, he (further) otherized and demonized Muslims by sharing images that are misleading and incite hate. He is fostering a climate that makes it okay to dehumanize Muslims. This is terrifying.
He retweeted three anti-Muslim videos from a British far right, neo-fascist Twitter account. The videos were unverified and the woman who tweeted them was convicted of one anti-Muslim hate crime and is awaiting trial for other hate crime accusations. Keep in mind, this man is the President of United States of America, the “leader of the free world.”
Some have dismissed the tweets that they are nothing more than a distraction for the real chaos he is creating in other parts of our lives: tax cuts, healthcare debacle, etc., etc., etc.
But to me, a Muslim, these tweets are not a mere distraction but a very real threat with the potential to cause a lot of harm. Yes, they may be a distraction and we shouldn’t ignore the ways in which he is changing structure after structure, but his tweets are a validation of the hate that is out there, and emboldens those actively engaged in Islamophobia because the man in charge approves of this hate.
Why does it matter so much to me? Well, for me, it means that I will worry about the safety of my father who goes to prayers at the mosque. I wonder if my mother, sister and other women who wear the hijab are okay. I’m also thinking about others who appear Muslim to the ignorant like our Sikh brothers and sisters. According to the latest Pew Research Center, “The number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, easily surpassing the modern peak reached in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new hate crimes statistics from the FBI. In 2016, there were 127 reported victims of aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 the year before and 93 in 2001.” 2016, if we can remember, was when he started his presidential campaign.
The President’s tweets are just so ridiculous and off the mark, I sometimes have to step back to make sure that what I am witnessing is real. These past few weeks, he tweet-responded to news that Matt Lauer was fired from NBC for allegations of sexual misconduct. Instead of focusing on the incident, he used the allegations to mock NBC. The President tweeted:
“Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!”
Instead of apologizing and deleting the tweets (which is what one expects from a decent human being), the Press Secretary doubled down, saying, “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”
David Duke also came out and praised the President for retweeting the anti-Muslim videos, saying “Thank God for Trump!”
Wow. That is terrifying to someone like me: A Muslim woman, and citizen of the United States.
When Britain’s Theresa May criticized the US president for retweeting the videos posted, he tweeted:
“@TheresaMay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
Turns out he tweeted the wrong Theresa May, which led to (more) reality TV-type drama. Why am I not surprised?
By now, we all know and expect that the President’s behavior/tweets will be vitriolic and is a loud, obnoxious, unfiltered voice of White Supremacy and this time he was spreading anti-Muslim propaganda. But just because he does it does not mean we should just expect it and, therefore, normalize it.
This isn’t the first time that the person-who-represents-us-on-some-level used Twitter to spread hate and, as the President, his words/hate speech – via Social Media- have consequences. We must admit this even if it makes us uncomfortable.
What can we do? I think the first step is to realize how dangerous his words are- virtual or not, and then to speak up and speak out against it. Call people in power and make some noise until things change.
His tweets are not just shallow words and entertainment; they have consequences that affect people’s safety. His words and actions are more than a distraction. They are treacherous and should not be dismissed. The guy is a danger to us all. Not just Muslims.
I am going to do more than just rant write about this. My plan of action, for now, is that I am going to tell companies like Twitter and Facebook to stop providing a platform for hate and do their part to fight bigotry online by signing this petition by Muslim Advocates.
Anne Frank was an intelligent teenager who wrote, in her diary, about her experiences as they happened. She probably had no idea what lay ahead or grasped fully how horrible things around her were. In some ways, this column is my crude account of what my Muslim family and I are going through during this period where Muslims are being demonized by the ruler of our state. I don’t know what will become of my children, but I pray that my words and actions will help change something. It is this hope that keeps me going.
Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a writer and Muslim Feminist (she is still working on a definition of Feminist that fits her ideology) who advocates and demands equal rights and space for women in all scopes. She is a writer and editor with work published on BlogHer, Huffington Post, and other outlets. She is currently a MFA candidate for non-fiction creative writing at SFSU.