Opinion

Opinion

Trump's silence after attack on Muslims speaks volumes

Posted June 20

For a long time, a lot of Muslims had their heads in the sand when it came to jihadist violence. They preferred to pretend as if it did not exist, or that foreign policy was solely to blame.

We've come a long way. We've learned that radicalization is a thing, and that we have a responsibility -- if we love our religion and our communities -- to think about what we can do to produce a different future for Islam and for Muslims. To change how our religion is taught in some spaces and some places.

Donald Trump and his supporters are going to have to make the same journey. They've excused, or even encouraged, extremist language and rhetoric for a long time now, and, well, here we are today, with a President who pretends that violence against Muslims doesn't matter.

On Sunday night, I was delivering a book reading at a Muslim cultural center in Florida and was asked to speak directly to the young Muslims in the room, to share my own experiences and struggles growing up as an American Muslim.

The truth is, my experiences and theirs are very different. When I was growing up, Islamophobia wasn't much of a thing. Maybe my friends and colleagues thought I was a little different, my name slightly harder to pronounce, but I never encountered overt hostility. These kids, though, they're growing up in a different world.

Shortly before I took the stage, I heard about an attack in London. A van, mowing down pedestrians.

ISIS, I thought. Again, I despaired.

But soon the details filtered out. The attack had happened outside a mosque. I have long feared that years of attacks by jihadists in the West, coupled with a media that at best dismisses Islamophobia and, at worst -- and especially, but not exclusively, on the right -- fans the flames of bigotry, intolerance and anti-Muslim extremism, would lead us to this outcome. Something like tit-for-tat violence.

Horrified denunciations of the attack rolled out across social media.

President Trump? He had nothing to say. Had the news been of an attack by Muslims, he has by now made clear, he would have boldly taken to Twitter, no matter the hour, and used an instance of outrageous violence to justify his policies. But when it's violence against Muslims, and especially by terrorists who share sympathies with white supremacists, if they are not themselves neo-Nazis, well then it's crickets.

After a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, nothing. After a man in Portland stabbed to death two others on a train who were trying to defend a woman from his anti-Muslim epithets -- nothing. And now after London -- nothing.

Trump's silence is all the more disappointing since even his daughter, Ivanka, has spoken out.

But she is not the President, and her words cannot carry the same weight.

Terrorism -- against civilians for political purposes -- has many causes. Some of it is clearly rooted in religious ideology, but is twisted, in a willful perversion of sacred text, to encourage and celebrate brutality. That ideology has to be addressed, and is being addressed, by countless Muslims all across the world. (Muslims are the greatest victims of jihadist terror.)

But some of it has to do with political policies, choices made by men and women in power, whether they be to funnel weapons to regimes or movements guilty of crimes against humanity, or to pursue enormities, such as the Iraq war, whose consequences will likely and unfortunately be with us for a very long time. I know a lot of people don't like to hear this. It's easier to imagine that someone else, far away, and very different from ourselves, is exclusively to blame.

People often ask me what we can do to stop terrorism, and sometimes they're looking for easy answers, which absolve them of any responsibility. They're fine demanding that Muslims, abstractly, do something, and sometimes they seem to believe that Muslims aren't condemning terrorism (which we are), and if they were, terrorism would stop. But what happens if we turn the question around?

I told those young Muslims Sunday night that they have to find their own relationship to Islam. They have to find something that connects them to their religion, something that doesn't come from their parents or their teachers. I told them that it's going to be hard to do that when there's so much hate out there.

Hate by some Muslims -- against other Muslims and against the world. And hate against Muslims, too. They're growing up in a different America.

It's an America in which the President doesn't appear to care if terrible things happen to people just like them. They can choose to fall to his level, or rise to the occasion.

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