The Trump administration plans to hold its first iftar dinner at the White House on Wednesday, a surprising break from the president’s decision not to hold one last year. But in continuing the decades-long annual White House tradition commemorating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Donald Trump aims to distract us from his lengthy history of Islamophobia — and we shouldn’t fall for it.
By hosting an iftar dinner, Trump intends to create “a defense — so when we call him out for Islamophobia, he can quip back [with] ‘I love the Muslims — I had them over for dinner!” tweeted Yale University student and activist Ziad Ahmed, who attended White House iftars during the Obama administration.
He's hosting this Iftar as a defense — so when we call him out for Islamophobia, he can quip back w "I love the Muslims — I had them over for dinner!" His pundits will echo that defense — asserting that bc he engaged w us ONCE that's enough/proof he isn't an Islamophobe.
— Ziad Ahmed (@ziadtheactivist) June 3, 2018
But a single dinner does not erase the fact that Trump has made incendiary and hateful comments toward Muslims, while simultaneously enacting policies that hurt Muslims domestically and abroad.
Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry dates back before his campaign for president. Throughout President Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump questioned Obama’s birthplace and faith. He often speculated that Obama may be “Muslim,” attempting to otherize the president and call his commitment to the United States into question. This is the underlying sentiment behind much of Trump’s bigotry against Muslims — he doesn’t see Muslims as compatible with America.
Trump “hasn’t just normalized Islamophobia, he has conflated Islamophobia as integral aspect of his conception of patriotism,” Ahmed tweeted. “He has made it seem like the ‘American’ thing to do is to hate/scapegoat Muslims.”
On the campaign trail, Trump was relentless with his Islamophobic rhetoric. He vowed to kick out all Syrian refugees, claiming that “They could be ISIS” and that their presence in the United States “could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time.” He casually remarked that he was open to the idea of shutting down mosques across the country and creating a registry of all Muslims in the United States. He falsely claimed that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Following the San Bernardino shooting, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He touted a false tale about U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing, who, as the story goes, fought Muslim insurgents in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. In an appearance on CNN, he said “Islam hates us … There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it.” After the 2016 Brussels bombing, Trump said Muslims “are not assimilating … They want sharia law. They don’t want the laws that we have.” He repeatedly suggested that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement and that they protect terrorists.
As president, Trump enacted three iterations of a ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries, including green card holders and Syrian refugees. He has filled his cabinet with individuals who have a history of anti-Muslim bigotry, including but not limited to: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway (who conducted the faulty poll Trump used to justify his Muslim ban proposal), former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (who, as Breitbart News’ editor, oversaw the publication of dozens of virulently anti-Muslim stories), former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (who called Islam a political ideology that “hides behind being a religion”), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who has claimed that Muslims who do not condemn terrorism are complicit in it, and has ties to notorious Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney), and National Security Adviser John Bolton (who served as the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a far-right anti-Muslim organization).
Trump’s foreign policy decisions — from moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to significantly increasing drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, to enabling Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and fueling a humanitarian crisis that has killed thousands — have actively hurt Muslims abroad.
And the president has mainstreamed Islamophobia by regularly tweeting anti-Muslim comments, including retweeting inflammatory anti-Muslim videos by Jayda Fransen, a leader of the far-right group Britain First, that showed Muslims supposedly beating up white people and destroying Christian symbols. These videos have a clear purpose — to incite violence against Muslims. But despite overwhelming evidence that a least one of the videos was fake, Trump dug his heels in, claiming that he only intended to elevate the conversation about terrorism.
Such actions and rhetoric have contributed to a rise in hate crimes against Muslims, as Islamophobes feel more emboldened and justified in their racism knowing that the president is on their side. According to data collected by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), hate crimes against Muslims increased 15 percent in 2017. A study from the United Kingdom’s University of Warwick found that Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets typically precede a spike in hate crimes against Muslims, suggesting that his rhetoric prompts such violence.
“He doesn’t get to systematically hurt Muslim communities, cancel a decades-long tradition of hosting an Iftar, and empower Islamophobia — and then get celebrated for doing the bare minimum — not today, not ever,” tweeted Ahmed.
He doesn't get to systematically hurt Muslim communities, cancel a decades-long tradition of hosting an Iftar, and empower Islamophobia — and then get celebrated for doing the bare minimum — not today, not ever. https://t.co/vSXYGH8Gsj
— Ziad Ahmed (@ziadtheactivist) June 3, 2018
Other American Muslims agree. While the White House has not revealed the guest list for Wednesday’s event, many Muslims have taken to social media to urge invitees to boycott the event. Muslim writer G. Willow Wilson, who attended a State Department iftar during Hilary Clinton’s tenure, tweeted that “proximity to power” is not the best way to create change or influence the president.
It's tempting to think, when invited to something like this, that you can use that proximity to effect change–have exactly the right 2 minute conversation with the President or the Sec of State or their aides or whoever–that will sway the course of history in some positive way.
— G. (@GWillowWilson) June 5, 2018
Meanwhile, CAIR plans to host a “Not Trump’s Iftar” event outside the White House Wednesday evening, as a counter to the president’s event.
“President Trump has attacked Muslims since the beginning of his campaign and codified his Islamophobia with the Muslim Bans,” reads the event description. “Now he wants to make nice and host an iftar dinner after skipping the tradition last year. Join us … to say not in our name.”