Trump’s Islamophobia is having an unexpected result

Those Muslim bans didn't go over so well.

People take part in a protest against President Trump's travel ban, dubbed by activists as Muslim Ban 3.0, in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2017. CREDIT: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images
People take part in a protest against President Trump's travel ban, dubbed by activists as Muslim Ban 3.0, in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2017. CREDIT: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images

President Trump’s effort to bar many Muslims from entering the United States may have actually caused public opinion to shift towards Muslims in general — just not in the direction the president likely intended.

Many Americans who once supported or remained neutral on Trump’s travel ban have altered their stance, according to a new report in Political Behavior. The study, authored by political scientists Loren Collingwood, Nazita Lajevardi, and Kassra A.R. Oskooii, surveyed 423 people prior to the first iteration of the ban, which targeted all refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.

When surveyed again a week later, many of the same respondents seemed to have changed their minds. Around 30 percent said they felt more negatively towards the policy than they had prior to its introduction, with many of those showing the biggest shift also describing their U.S. nationality as a major component of their identity.

That’s a notable turn of events, one that indicates the Trump administration’s hardline efforts to target immigrants — especially Muslim immigrants — could be backfiring.

The travel ban in all its iterations may come to be one of the policy decisions the president regrets most. Signed on January 27, the first version of the ban spurred mass protests, chaos at airports, and national outcry. Two additional versions of the ban followed, the last of which introduced a ban on North Korean citizens and some Venezuelan officials — two non-Muslim-majority countries. But the moniker “Muslim ban” has endured, in no small part because of Trump’s own language. As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Much of the U.S. public sees the travel ban as a Muslim ban, something that may have initially helped Trump. But if the Political Behavior study is any indicator, that connection isn’t helping curry support for one of the president’s most controversial policy efforts. The study comes after a year marked by rising violence against a number of groups, including Muslims, people of color, Jews, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, told ThinkProgress that’s not surprising.

“We’ve seen twin tracks with the rise of Trump. We’ve seen an unprecedented rise of Islamophobia and hate incidents targeting not only Muslims but other minority groups,” Hooper said. “Along with that we see another track, a tremendous rise in support for Muslims in the United States.”

Those dueling narratives emerged after November 2016, Hooper said. Immediately after Trump’s election, Muslim communities experienced backlash, with mosques and community centers reporting vandalism, threats, and violent incidents. But the rise in hate is far from the only story.

“Thousands of people volunteered with our organization and the donations poured in,” Hooper said. These days, he noted, when a mosque is vandalized, “we see so much support. There’s a big rise in support for American Muslims and our institutions. It comes from a recognition that the Trump administration and its supporters have ushered in the rise of hate and white supremacy. People are becoming engaged with the political process. They see what’s happening.”

Others noted the same phenomenon. Ani Zonneveld, the president and founder of Muslims For Progressive Values, told ThinkProgress that a major turning point came following the initial travel ban.

“As someone who witnessed a demonstration at the airport upon returning from international travel, and as a Muslim, I was moved to tears. It reminded me why I am an American,” Zonneveld said. “The overwhelming push-back by non-Muslims, individual Americans who were untouched by the travel ban, and yet demonstrated in numbers, and with states and civil liberty organizations filing suites, reminded others: it is un-American and ‘not cool’ to discriminate. I believe for those on the sidelines, this unapologetic stance is what they needed to see from their fellow Americans.”

Still, advocates are quick to note that displays of support are far from an indicator that Islamophobic trends are ebbing. Hate crimes targeting Muslims rose in major cities across the country in 2017 and many U.S. Muslims have reported feeling fear and anxiety as Trump’s presidency has progressed. That atmosphere is one hanging over the community as 2018 progresses. But studies measuring reactions to policies targeting Muslims are still giving some hope that change could be on the horizon.

“Hopefully as people realize the negative impact rising bigotry and hate has on our society, we’ll see more and more people rejecting this kind of rhetoric,” Hooper said. “Instead of trying to push us back to the 1950s, we’ll see people waking up.”