Trump’s Islam speech is going to be super awkward

This is probably a bad idea.

CREDIT: AP/Susan Walsh
CREDIT: AP/Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump is traveling to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for his first overseas trip on Friday, where he is expected to deliver a major speech on Islam over the weekend.

It will probably be super awkward.

The Trump administration has worked to hype the speech, describing it as an “inspiring yet direct” address that will call on Muslim leaders to combat radical ideology.

“The speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster said.

Whether or not Trump wins the room, there are a number of reasons why his remarks — even if he strikes a conciliatory tone towards Islam — will likely fall flat with most of the world’s roughly 1.6 billion Muslims.

Officials also noted that attendees will reportedly hail from more than 50 Muslim countries, and the reception will likely be warm — especially if clerics in attendance are connected to the Saudi government. Saudi leaders have been relatively supportive of Trump’s deeply divisive views on Islam, with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even endorsing the president’s Muslim ban. But it remains unclear which countries — and, more importantly, which leaders — will be present, or if any will represent the six nations covered under the currently stalled ban.


Whether or not Trump wins the room, there are a number of reasons why his remarks — even if he strikes a conciliatory tone towards Islam — will likely fall flat with most of the world’s roughly 1.6 billion Muslims.

Here are a few reasons why.

Trump’s speech is being written by Stephen Miller, who has a history of Islamophobic connections.

CREDIT: AP/Andrew Harnik
CREDIT: AP/Andrew Harnik

Trump’s address is reportedly being penned by Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, who also happens to have a deeply antagonistic posture towards Islam.

According to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, Miller:

  • Was one of the architects of Trump’s Muslim ban.
  • Penned an op-ed while at Duke University in which he declared “Islamic terrorists…have declared a death sentence on every man, woman and child living in this country.”
  • Was the first national coordinator of the Terrorism Awareness Project, a project of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which is considered an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

What’s more, Miller is said to have helped craft Trump’s inauguration speech, which had a decidedly Christian nationalist bent and included a promise by Trump to “reform the world against radical Islamic terrorism.”

Trump campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the country.

Back in December 2015, during the early days of his campaign, then-candidate Trump proposed a “complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration into the country.


“Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until out country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” he said.

“We have no choice,” he added.

Trump justified the proposal by claiming that there is a “great hatred” of Americans among Muslims.

The move was widely seen as inherently Islamophobic.

Then, when he became president, Trump actually tried to do it.

CREDIT: AP/Branden Camp
CREDIT: AP/Branden Camp

More than a year later, President Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from 7 majority-Muslim nations from from entering the United States. The outcry was immediate: thousands of demonstrators descended on airports to protest the order, and scores of organizations decried it — including a staggering number of faith groups.


The Trump administration eventually amended the order to include only 6 countries, and insisted that that it was not “Muslim ban.” But the courts disagreed: both iterations of the ban remain halted in court, with lawyers arguing that the text of the orders— combined with Trump’s comments on Islam during the campaign — constitutes religious discrimination against Muslims.

“Muslims, we believe, are the sole targets of these orders,” Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in January. “This ban does not make our country safer. Instead, it serves to stigmatize Muslim refugees and the entire American Muslim community. It will hand a propaganda tool to our enemies who propagate the false notion of an American war on Islam.”

Trump once called for a Muslim registry.

In November 2015, Trump told an NBC News reporter that as president he would “absolutely” implement a database that would target Muslims in the United States.

Trump’s transition team later tried to deny Trump ever advocated for a registry, but tapes quickly emerged confirming his support for the idea.

Trump thinks Islam “hates” the United States and the west.

In March of 2016, then-candidate Trump answered a question from Anderson Cooper about whether or not Islam is “at war with the West.”

“Islam hates us,” Trump said. “There’s something there — there’s a tremendous hatred…We have to get to the bottom of it.”

Trump thinks Muslims themselves are responsible for combating Islamophobia.

During the second major presidential debate of the general election, Trump was asked by a Muslim woman what he would do to combat Islamophobia. Trump responded by calling anti-Muslim sentiment a “shame,” but then launched into an extended rant in which he accused Muslims of failing to report extremism and insisting people use the term “radical Islamic extremism.”

“We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on,” Trump said. “When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.”

Trump’s assertion was false: Muslims not only report evidence to extremism, law enforcement officials often rely on them for tips. Former FBI Director James Comey even refuted Trump on this point during the campaign.

“[Muslim Americans] do not want people committing violence, either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim,” Comey said. “It’s at the heart of the FBI’s effectiveness to have good relationships with these folks.”

Trump’s rise to power coincides with a sharp spike in Islamophobic incidents.

CREDIT: CREDIT: AP/Rich Pedroncelli
CREDIT: CREDIT: AP/Rich Pedroncelli

The 2016 presidential campaign coincided with a shocking increase in Islamophobic incidents. According to a recent report from CAIR, there were 2,213 anti-Muslim bias incidents in the United States during 2016 — a 57 percent increase from the year before. What’s more, ThinkProgress calculated 111 anti-Islam incidents from November 2015 (shortly before Trump proposed his Muslim ban) to November 2016, and counted another 31 attacks between Trump’s election and early February 2017.

Experts at CAIR and Georgetown both pointed to a same catalyst to explain this rise: the spike in Islamophobic rhetoric used by politicians, especially Trump.

The attacks took a number of forms, such as shots fired at mosques, beatings, vandalism, outright property destruction, and bomb threats, among others. On more than one occasion, vandals spray-painted Trump’s name on mosques, community centers, and prayer rooms, and some assailants reportedly cited Trump as justification for physically and verbally assaulting Muslims.

Meanwhile, five mosques have already burned to the ground since the beginning of 2017, some in suspicious fires.

Trump filled his administration with people who are outwardly antagonistic towards Islam.

Trump’s team includes several individuals who have spouted extreme anti-Islam rhetoric. A few examples include:

  • Senior Adviser Steve Bannon, who will be on the trip with Trump, said in 2014 that he believes the “Judeo-Christian West” is at “the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.” He also called Islam “the most radical religion in the world” in 2016, and bemoaned the “Muslim invasion” of Europe.
  • CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who once accused Muslim leaders of not doing enough to prevent the Boston marathon bombings, saying their “silence” effectively “made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.”
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was one of the earliest defenders of Trump’s Muslim ban. While he backtracked on that issue during his confirmation hearing, he has a history of casting Muslim immigrants in a negative light.
  • Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since been let go and is now at the center of a looming investigation, tweeted last year “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”