Donald Trump has set in motion a serious discussion about the American consciousness. He’s forcing people with common sense to come together in order to make lemonade out of his very sour lemons and this is a good thing. On TV and the Internet many have voiced their disgust at Trump’s dangerous and hateful rhetoric, proving that just when you’re losing your faith in humanity, we can rise to the occasion to prove that at our core, we are better than how we are often perceived.
Celebrities, Politicians, and people of all backgrounds have rightly condemned Donald Trump for advocating policies that sound more like he’s running for Fuhrer than President of the United States.
Let’s not kid ourselves and think for one moment that Donald Trump is a serious candidate. Trump is a businessman at his core and his goal is to convince people in order to make a deal. Maybe he really wants to be President or this is an attempt to raise his star so high that he gets to be Kingmaker for the GOP, but whatever his motives and secret ambitions, one thing is for sure, Trump has proven time and time again that he will say whatever it takes to make the deal.
This is why in nearly every speech and television appearance Trump makes note of his polling numbers. He sounds like someone mentioning their quarterly gains and stock prices. In Trump’s world numbers prove whether or not your strategy is working, even when the methods are questioned. So when Trump says horrible things about Immigrants, African Americans, Refugees, or Muslims it doesn’t matter how vile the comments sound, what matters to him is whether or not his numbers back his strategy.
So Trump is selling a product that many find inadequate and harmful to the general public. However, he has plenty of buyers and therefore instead of fixing his wares or taking them off the shelves, he’s ramping up production. The question is, how does he stay in business?
The media has been laser focused on Trump’s words and the reactions of both supporters and dissidents. What the media has not done a good job of is focusing on how we got to a point where Trump even has a platform that is so loud to ignore.
Trump leading the GOP Presidential hopefuls did not happen in a vacuum. In order for Donald Trump to be so successful, he had to have a captive audience who approved of his message and a willing apparatus to help spread his ideas far and wide.
The land that Trump sewed his seeds of hate in was very fertile by the time he got there. The GOP’s rhetoric about Muslims in particular, has morphed from President George W. Bush’s declaration that “Islam is a religion of Peace” to GOP candidates and supporters who have repeatedly called Islam a cult, questioned whether Islam is actually a religion, proclaim that Islam is not compatible with Western values, and much, much, more… The GOP base has been molded and shaped by its politicians since the 2008 primary and has become more and more hostile and radical toward Islam and Muslims ever since. We got our first taste of the hate to come when Obama was called an Arab by an elderly White woman on the McCain campaign trail. Though McCain corrected the woman and distanced himself from the comments, the GOP as a whole saw an opportunity in the ignorance of their mainly older, White base, and sought to maximize the hate as an electoral strategy.
So when Donald Trump made his first serious attempt for the White House in 2012, he played on the major Republican rhetoric of the day which was the infamous Birther controversies and allegations that the President was not a Christian but a Muslim. Now that Obama is no longer going to be on the Presidential ticket, Trump is capitalizing on the current rhetoric of the day which deals with immigrants, Daesh, Muslims in general, and refugees. Trump is not as silly as he appears and should not be written off as simply a carnival barker, because rhetoric is dangerous and people are being hurt.
Trump could not be successful without a ready made audience. The GOP for nearly a decade has been vehemently hostile toward Muslims and Islam. Conservative politicians, radio personalities, pundits, and celebrities have continued to decry, warn, and radicalize their base and supporters toward the idea that all Muslims are the same, Islam is a threat to America, and Muslims regardless of their background are not to be trusted and their loyalties questioned at all times.
Now Trump has taken the Republican Party by storm to the chagrin of seasoned GOP politicians and there have been coordinated attempts to knock him down a few notches prior to the first primaries. Nearly all GOP candidates have come out to condemn Trump for his latest comments calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants, but prior to Trump’s latest rhetoric the same people condemning Trump now, not even two weeks ago were saying things like referring to Syrian refugees as dogs, advocating a ban on Syrian refugees and passing legislation to back it up, some like Jeb Bush, even said that we should only accept Christian refugees. Their condemnation rings hollow to those who have a memory longer than 72hrs.
To add insult to injury, the polls that Trump proudly quotes as evidence to back up his claims about Muslims, come from Frank Gaffney a beloved Republican National Security Expert and notable Islamophobe. Most, if not all, GOP candidates have attended his conferences in the past as speakers and as guests and will also be attending his latest forum next week.
The media also plays a role in both the rise of Trump and helping promote the idea that Muslims and Islam are the foreign other that must be scrutinized.
It would be easy to target Fox News, as the chief culprit in helping create this narrative and though they share some of the blame, most major media outlets are at fault. The culture of the media and especially cable news is a if it bleeds, it leads, philosophy. Ratings are key and punditry is a replacement for actual journalism.
In a week where two unarmed young Black men were shot more than a dozen times and cover-ups alleged with massive protesting in Chicago, the media largely ignored these events once Trump made his infamous comments. Instead of dealing with the comments and moving to other topics, the major media outlets focused solely on Trump and the Muslim response. Once that began to get old, the media reverted to covering the San Bernardino Shooting non-stop again, which was the previous ratings champion supplanting the anger in Chicago.
Injustices against Black Americans are worthy of coverage when there’s a riot, trial, or some other sensational component, but when it comes to covering Muslims, Islam, and terrorism connections, all other news can wait.
Breaking News, used to mean information was being reported for the first time and was being announced and reported. Breaking News today, is a moniker that is repeated 100 times a day as a sensational, eye-popping, graphic with sounds, used to introduce a segment that the media wants us to constantly focus on.
The focus, more than any other topic in the last decade or more, is terrorism and specifically, terrorism committed by Muslims, which ironically, only accounts for about 4 percent of all domestic terrorism.
The damage created by the media in continuing the Muslim terrorist narrative isn’t necessarily the amount of coverage, but how terrorism is covered.
Sensationalist headlines, offensive terminology that implies that terrorism is inherently Islamic, and round the clock imagery of angry Muslims screaming or committing acts of terror are the sole picture displayed on television screens.
The goal seems to be that the media wants make Muslims as scary as possible, in order to help create an atmosphere of fear, so that when viewers see the flashing Breaking News announcement, like Pavlov’s dogs, the response is that we stop what we’re doing and are glued to the television screens so we can hear pundits comment and debate in between sponsor ads.
Even when the media makes an attempt to appear non-biased, by inviting Muslim guests to offer their opinions, they tend to gravitate toward Muslims that fit the narrative that Islam is a foreign religion and that most if not all Muslims are immigrants to the US.
Most of the Muslim guests are either Arab or look like they may be Arab to uninformed eyes, some speak with accents, and many share stories about how immigrating to the US was the best thing that happened to them or their parents.
These guests are very patriotic, promote the values of America, and point out how they are model citizens. They often go out of their way to denounce terrorists and tell everyone how Islam is peace.
Even when they are handled with respect, their time is cut short or they’re asked questions about Islam and Muslims that are far too complex for a 3 minute interview. However, most of the time, these Muslim guests are pitted against so-called Islamic or Terrorism experts, who are vehemently anti-Muslim or anti-Islam some more overt than others, but most of the time these “experts” have no academic background whatsoever in Islamic studies, Qur’an, Islamic History, or sciences. The goal is to have the conversation devolve into a shouting match, that will produce sensational sound bites. An added bonus occurs when the Muslim guest speaks with a thick accent, so that when engaged in a shouting match, they can look flustered, confused, and most likely not telling the truth.
This tactic of promoting Islam and Muslims as foreign, ignores the true history of the American Muslim experience. The majority of Muslims in America are not foreign born. They are not immigrants or children of immigrants. The majority of American Muslims are African American.
Muslims have been in America since before the Declaration of Independence. 20-30 percent of slaves brought to America, were Muslim. Although, slavers did what they could to stop the practice of Islam through the prohibition of education, the separation of families, the force feeding of pork, beatings, and other tactics, some kept their Islamic heritage mostly in tact. The founding fathers were familiar with Islam and spoke highly of the religion in their writings, dealings with Muslim nations, and even about Prophet Muhammad.
In 1777, Morocco under Sultan Mohammad III, was the first country in the world to recognize American Independence from Great Britain, President Thomas Jefferson famously hosted the first White House Iftar in 1805, and also in 1805 Prince Hamet an Ottoman Empire viceroy, presented Marine Corps Lieutenant, Pressley O’Bannon with the Mameluke sword due to the Marine’s valor in Tripoli and it is still used today.
In the early and mid 20th century, not only did Muslim immigration increase, but millions of African Americans converted to Islam, some notable Muslims of the period include Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. In modern times, there are many indigenous American Muslims in Sports, Entertainment, and Politics. For instance, the only 2 Muslim Congressmen are African American. When we think of the past and even many American daily routines that include drinking coffee or using Apple products (Steve Jobs is the son of a Syrian Immigrant), it should be obvious that Islam and Muslims are American as Apple Pie.
The environment that built Trump and allowed for his meteoric rise, has been in place for quite some time. Sensationalism, negative imagery, distortion of the historical facts, and constant manipulation by politicians and the media, all played a role in fanning the flames of hate. Trump isn’t the fire starter, he’s fanning the embers and the flames.
If we want to stop the anti-Muslim rhetoric, we have to make it unpopular. The media should do more to include indigenous Muslims into the conversation, they should report on Muslim efforts that are positive such as marches, blood drives, and charitable actions. Actual scholars, lecturers, and Imams who teach the true, peaceful message of Islam, should be given a platform. The media can create the greatest change, because the media helps shape public opinion and politicians feed off that opinion to develop their rhetoric in order to gain support.
However, positivity in the press doesn’t pay the bills. Americans will have to decide whether or not they’d like to expunge doom and gloom from their media consumption diets, by turning the channel.
Hopefully, we don’t wait until American Muslims are completely under siege. Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise as the rhetoric increases. Muslims have been beaten, Mosques vandalized, armed protests are being held outside Muslim places of worship, and more and more non-Muslim Americans are feeling emboldened to spew whatever vitriol toward Muslims directly and in the public they want more than ever before.
Civility is no longer a virtue most Americans value.
We’ve seen this before where a minority group has been targeted to this degree. The minority was devalued through constant negative rhetoric and lies, the media helped give a platform to the message, and even as support rose, an apathetic and disbelieving majority ignored it until the radicals became the majority and then it was too late.
We can do better. We are better. Diversity is our greatest strength not our greatest liability. That honor belongs to ignorance which can be eradicated by opening our hearts and our minds.