A story I remember well bears retelling now that Donald Trump is president and leading a post-truth administration based on alternative facts, prejudices and random sightings of millions of illegal voters and overwhelming crowds.
I remember, in my youth, accompanying my mother on weekly shopping expeditions down Manchester’s Elm Street. Occasionally, while waiting in check-out lines, she would be drawn to the tabloids displayed there, with their garish headlines about celebrities, perversities, conspiracies and aliens with three breasts.
Embarrassed, I’d always ask her to put it away before people saw her looking at them. True to my recently acquired adolescent sophistication, I would patiently explain what rubbish it all was. Thankfully, she never actually bought one of them!
“Why? It’s in print. It must be true. They can’t print something that’s not true.”
“Yes, Mummy, they can.”
Not only did they but, alarmingly, they still do.
Not only do they still but in doing so those media outlets have empowered an intellectually-deprived portion of our citizenry with the courage to act out their anger and prejudices in shameful, unpatriotic and dangerous ways.
Today, one of the more dangerous manifestations of that empowerment stands before us as president.
Today, those outlets, exponentially multiplied in the internet age on diverse platforms, are sustained by true believers nurtured by Fox News, Breitbart and Stormfront. They’re egged on by kleptocrats and oligarchs who’re profiting from the resultant polluted tide of nativism and prejudice without calling to calm the roiled waters of bigotry.
This week, according to AP, at New York’s JFK Airport “a Massachusetts man was accused of attacking a Muslim Delta employee Rabeeya Khan, allegedly kicking and shouting obscenities at the woman and telling her that President Donald Trump ‘will get rid of all of you.'”
When Khan ran from her attacker he followed her, got down on his knees and began to bow down, imitating a Muslim praying, shouted more obscenities and said “Trump is here now. He will get rid of all of you. You can ask Germany, Belgium and France about these kind of people. You see what happens.”
To American Muslims this isn’t news. This is merely one of well-over 400 Islamophobic acts directed at Muslims in the past 12 months and merely reflects the fear and uncertainty many American Muslims are experiencing.
This week such fears are being amplified by a report that Trump will soon announce a cessation to issuing visas to Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Somalis, Sudanese and Yemenis.
This reported executive order – a deliberate act of religious exclusion – clearly places Donald Trump within that shameful pantheon of bigots occupied by the likes of Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and David Duke.
And it will stand as an executive order contrary to reality, especially because all the terror attacks America’s endured since, and including 9/11, not one was by a citizen or refugee from the above sanctioned seven countries.
First, the reality is that much of the terrorism and political violence experienced in America is committed by white supremacists many of whom, it appears through intelligence reports, are forming connections with European right-wing extremist groups.
Second, his executive action is flawed both in concept and execution.
In 2015 a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program since 9/11 that, “only about a dozen – a tiny fraction of one percent of admitted refugees – have been arrested or removed from the U.S. due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the U.S. None of them were Syrian.”
Also, the vetting process for refugees runs from 18 to 24 months, sometimes taking a long as three years. Contrary to President Trump no one gets refugee status without documents that’ve been fully vetted.
While all seven Trump-designated countries are Muslim-majority they are not all among the world’s most violent; For example, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and DR Congo are listed among the world’s 10 most violent nations but are not on the list
They’re not on the list, I believe, because they’re not Muslim-majority.
I wonder, too, about Iran’s inclusion. We’ve had no Iranian terrorism in America and they, like us, are targeted by ISIS. Today, America peacefully embraces between 300,000 to 400,000 Iranian-Americans – Shi’a, Sunni, Baha’i, Jewish, Christian.
Is it about Iran’s aggression toward other peoples? If so, should Saudi Arabia be listed for what they’ve done in Yemen, or Russia for what its participation in genocide in Chechnya and Syria?
Don’t we have any moral responsibility for Syrians queuing for refugee status – victims of regional destabilization for which we share much blame? And of the over 200,000 Iraqi-Americans present today how many would even have chosen to emigrate if we hadn’t illegally invaded their country?
For whom do we have responsibility?
Such bans and discrimination do not increase U.S. security. They’re simply racist and are based on ignorance and bigotry, the same sort of bigotry that deem some peoples inferior to others, as has been done to Native Americans and blacks in America and to Jews, both historically through Christian literature and throughout Europe in the 1930s and ’40s.
Today, most Americans remain either willfully ignorant of, or indifferent to, that history and instead embrace a false myth of American Exceptionalism – which within a Trumpian context means “White Exceptionalism.”
Since 9/11, many American citizens have unquestioningly fed upon a mind-numbing diet of hatred and bigotry, to them justified in the name of keeping us safe from “Radical Islamic Terrorism” – itself code for fear of the Other – even fear of President Barack Obama, who Trump for years tried to delegitimize.
Today, Muslim and Other are code for all who are not Trump – all who march for social justice, dignity and equity.
America has a long history of terrorizing the vulnerable, the weak and those whom we believe are less than we. Trump, who has a knack for inflaming and exploiting America’s collective dark side, sadly knows how to exploit that history.
And it puts us at risk.
In a Ha’aretz column, Robert Bank, president of American Jewish World Service writes, “As the leader of an international Jewish organization that, for decades, has worked with Muslim organizations and Muslim partners to end poverty and advance human rights in some of the poorest countries in the world I believe it is our duty to object in the strongest terms to the demonization of all Muslims by the new American administration. We understand all too well what it means to deny safe harbor to persecuted people who are seeking refuge, and we believe we are at risk of returning to the days when the United States tragically acted with indifference to Jewish and other refugees from Europe during World War II.”
Today, it’s not just Muslims at risk.
It is We the People – we are at risk.
NOTE: Please see also a column I wrote in 2015: