Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Haroon Moghul: Do you think that once you open the door to hate, it'll stop with Muslims?
To slander an entire religion, with 1.5 billion adherents, is unfathomable, Moghul says
Donald Trump is America’s worst Islamophobe. When I say that, I don’t just mean that his bigotry is the most callous and shameless. It’s that he knows better, which makes his rhetoric that much more dangerous.
Speaking Wednesday to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Trump issued another sweeping judgment on Islam. “I think Islam hates us,” he said. When Cooper pressed him to explain whether he thought this enmity was part and parcel of the faith, Trump left it to the media to determine if that were the case.
It’s not the first time Trump has ducked the obvious implications of his statements.
U.S. versus them
Trump didn’t say that radical Muslims hate the West, which is at least true – if only incompletely. Because radical Muslims hate most other Muslims, too. They often don’t even consider most Muslims to be Muslims. Trump didn’t even say Muslims hate the West either. He just said, “Islam hates us.”
My first reaction to these comments was disbelief: Who is Islam? Where does he live? Does he have an email address to which I can direct follow-up questions? How can you possibly believe that a religion 1,400 years old, with well over 1.5 billion adherents, who are found in almost every part of the planet, and represent a diversity that is as bewildering as it is overwhelming, simply hates us?
My next reaction was dismay. Because, when you’re a minority, this language isn’t just offensive.
Who is “us”?
Did my parents, born in British India, hate us, too?
Because that would mean they hated the place they moved to – and their own children? I’m American and Muslim after all. Am I supposed to hate myself, too? Does my Muslimness cancel out my Americanness?
What about the millions of Muslims who are Westerners, who live in the West, who work here or travel here? On a recent night in Times Square’s M&M store, I overheard tourists from the Persian Gulf excitedly comparing the different kinds of candied treats available, debating, in Arabic, what they could take back and what they should.
Do they hate us, too? Do they hate themselves for buying M&Ms?
And why is it that hundreds of millions of people around the world are so condescendingly, abruptly, dismissively reduced to what they think about us? Can you imagine a more egoistic, self-centered chauvinism? That’s where fascism begins. With the assumption that other peoples, other cultures, other nations, other histories exist only to serve us. Or obstruct us.
What makes it worse? That Trump, at least among Republicans, seems to have a better handle on the actual origins of radical Muslim enmity.
Foreign policy’s role
When he criticizes Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush’s foreign policy record, Trump becomes briefly and unusually insightful. Trump blamed our former secretary of state, for example, for “kill(ing) hundreds of thousands with her stupidity.” Trump meant Clinton’s support for the 2003 Iraq war, foreign intervention in Libya and whatever else with which he can harangue her.
These and other foreign policy decisions have in fact led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, though it’s not true that Clinton was a primary architect of the Iraq war. She just voted for it. Nor is it true that Trump was particularly concerned by Operation Iraqi Freedom when it was first proposed.
But it still strikes me as at least germane to the conversation.
Given how quickly Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims escalated after terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, is it so hard to imagine that years of violence in the Middle East have also empowered radicals and warmongers?
Bigotry means denying others the same complexity and nuance you demand for yourself. So, sure, Trump will tell you American policies have led to mass mayhem in much of the Middle East. But don’t you think for one moment that Trump thinks that there are any dots here that it might be to our benefit to connect. No Islamophobe would.
When talking about Islam and Muslims, Trump forgets his previous comments. He simply shrugs his shoulders, for there is a mysterious hatred lurking inside Islam, or among Muslims, and by so doing, he adds fuel to an Islamophobic fire that has been simmering, especially on the right, for years now.
One doesn’t simply go from zero to a proposed ban on Muslims, IDs or special registration, or killing Muslim family members of accused terrorists, without someone laying the groundwork first. In this, as in so many other ways, Trump merely carries the recent trajectory of the Republican Party to its frighteningly logical conclusions.
Muslims around the world, like all people around the world, matter. They don’t matter because they approve or disapprove of our policies. They matter because they’re human beings. They’re no better than us or worse than us except by what they do. Or what we do. But that level of compassion seems to be in short supply.
For years, Republican politicians coddled Trump, enabled him, sought his endorsement when he was making many of the same kinds of arguments – remember the “birther” business? – and even jumped, like Chris Christie, into his corner without any second thoughts, so eager to be on the apparent right side of the primaries that they shrug off being on the wrong side of history.
Do you think, if Trump used the same language about Catholics, about Protestants, about Jews, that an Alabama senator and a Maine governor would be so eager to back him?
Do you really think that once you open the door to this kind of invective, when you vote for the guy who flirts with white nationalists, that it’ll stop with Muslims?
After attacks like the one in Orlando early Sunday morning, many turn to Muslims in expectation of an answer. An explanation, or maybe an apology. At times like this, many Muslims turn to each other in despair, looking for answers, too. Well, I have one.
Editor’s note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.