The antics of our commander-in-chief may no longer surprise us, but they can still profoundly horrify. Wednesday morning, President Trump retweeted three videos supposedly depicting Muslims committing acts of violence, each captioned in a manner linking the actions with the perpetrators’ racial or religious identity. The videos originated from the Twitter feed of Jayda Fransen, an anti-Muslim activist in the UK who was recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment; President Trump’s press secretary declined to comment about how he had come across the videos.
Debate has centered around whether the videos are authentic (although at least one of them has already been shown to be a hoax), but this is, at best, peripheral. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; anyone with sense would be willing to acknowledge that some will do awful things. However, in amplifying messaging that deliberately links these acts with the faith or race of their perpetrators (e.g. “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof!”), Trump is advancing the idea of not only collective, but selective guilt: Muslims as a whole are held accountable when one individual commits a crime, but only Muslims, and minorities in general, are treated in this way. We don’t see headlines proclaiming “Roy Moore, a Christian, accused of sexually assaulting underage girls,” or “Harvey Weinstein, a Jew, defends against rape charges” — and rightly so. Members of these groups are presumed to be separate and distinct from one another; in the president’s eyes, however, all Muslims are the same.
Hate speech leads to hate crimes. The organization in which I serve as a leader, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, receives a spike in calls reporting vandalism of mosques, bullying of Muslim students, and assaults on American Muslim men, women, and children in the wake of such statements by major political figures. In Massachusetts, which a recently released report by the FBI identified as having the highest per capita rate of hate crimes against minorities in the country, all residents should be concerned about the wide dissemination of such incendiary tweets. The president’s actions are reckless and have empowered a new generation of violent individuals to translate their hatred into abuse.
To Muslim children growing up in America under a Trump presidency, the impact is clear: more than 50 percent of all Muslim youth report being bullied because of their faith, more than twice the national average, according to a recent survey by CAIR-California. In a climate where Muslims are daily vilified and with this year on track to become one of the worst for hate crimes against the community, the president’s tweets are matches thrown into a powder keg. And tragically, the victims of his dangerous recklessness and political opportunism will be Muslim men, women, and children.
Dr. John Robbins is the executive director of the Massachusetts office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.