State-Sponsored Islamophobia & Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Embolden Right-Wing Terrorists

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Fifty people are dead, and millions around the globe are mourning, following the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. The terrorist attack unfolded during Friday prayer, when a lone gunman and avid white supremacist opened fire on worshipers while live-streaming the attack on Facebook. It was the deadliest shooting in the country’s modern history. The youngest of the dead is 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim. Police have arrested and charged a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist named Brenton Tarrant with the killings. Tarrant published a manifesto praising President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump has refused to acknowledge the global rise of white nationalism in the wake of the attack. We speak with Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Arkansas and the author of “American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear.” He says, “There’s an underbelly of anti-Muslim animus that facilitates the emergence of the very brazen Islamophobia we see today, weaponized by people like President Trump or by terrorists on the ground in places like New Zealand who commit massacres like we saw on Friday.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re continuing our coverage of Friday’s massacre in New Zealand, when a white supremacist gunman shot dead 50 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch. We turn now to President Trump’s response to the attacks. On Friday, he was asked about the increasing threat of white nationalism.

REPORTER: Do you see, today, white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don’t, really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess. If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved. But it’s certainly a terrible thing, terrible thing.

AMY GOODMAN: On the same day of the massacre in New Zealand—that was Friday—President Trump signed his first presidential veto, after lawmakers in both houses of Congress voted in favor of a resolution reversing Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump claimed there was an “invasion” occurring on the southern border.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Congress’s vote to deny the crisis on the southern border is a vote against reality. It’s against reality. It is a tremendous national emergency. It is a tremendous crisis. Last month, more than 76,000 illegal migrants arrived at our border. We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders. People hate the word “invasion,” but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. We have no idea who they are. … We’re bursting at the seams. You can only do so much. And the only option then is to release them, but we can’t do that, either, because when you release them, they come into our society. And in many cases, they’re stone cold criminals. And in many cases, and in some cases, you have killers coming in and murderers coming in. And we’re not going to allow that to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s use of the word “invasion” came just hours after the New Zealand gunman issued a manifesto where he described immigrants as “invaders.” In the same manifesto, the government praised Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

Well, for more, we are going to Khaled Beydoun, law professor at the University of Arkansas, author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. We’re also joined by Christian Picciolini, founder of Free Radicals Project, a nonprofit helping people disengage from hate and violent extremism. Picciolini was a leading neo-Nazi skinhead and far-right extremist in the '80s and ’90s, now the author of White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Khaled Beydoun, can you respond to what happened in New Zealand?

KHALED BEYDOUN: Yeah. Generally, you know, first, it just kind of struck me as an individual, being American Muslim myself, having family members who wear the hijab, having family members who were at the—who were going to the mosque. The next day, I, myself, was going to the mosque. So, you know, it struck a real, deep, personal cord. Fear, obviously, because this kind of thing can happen in the United States, especially with the kind of brazen rhetoric we see from the president. So, before I can kind of wrap my head around the politics of everything, it was a real kind of moment of chilling fear that set in.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about why you decided to start a Twitter thread with images of the victims of Friday’s massacre? And what happened when you started posting those pictures?

KHALED BEYDOUN: Yeah. You know, I was doing a lot of media the morning of, here in the States, after the massacre. And I just felt a bit dissatisfied. There was, you know, a fixation on the terrorist, the manifesto of the terrorist, you know, a lot of centering of him, at the expense of not focusing on the victims. And given my work on Islamophobia, there’s a tendency in mainstream media to kind of clump up specifically Muslim victimhood as faceless, monolithic, dehumanized sort of blocs of people. So I wanted to take that opportunity to really put a face on who the victims were, tell their stories, draw real human connections, that really resonated with people on social media.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the response to what you started posting?

KHALED BEYDOUN: You know, it was a series of responses. I think that the most sort of striking responses were after the thread had caught some attention and was, you know, generating an audience. I was getting messages from family members of a lot of the victims, friends of the victims, classmates of the victims, telling me more about them, feeding me with more intimate information about who they were. And I tried to compile as much information about these individuals in the rolling thread, again, to humanize these people and show that the people who were killed, the 50 people, were far more than just statistics. These were individuals who led lives. They were young kids, 3 years old, like you mentioned earlier on, with Mucad Ibrahim. They were individuals who were as old as 72, somebody like [Haji-Daoud] Nabi, who was the first identified victim, standing at the door, who welcomed in the terrorist into the mosque. So I tried as much as possible to really put a face on who these people were, illustrating stories, again, that showed that these people were far more than just statistics.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to the alleged shooter, in his so-called manifesto, more than 80 pages, praising Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”?

KHALED BEYDOUN: You know, I think that whether it’s causation or correlation, this kind of rhetoric that we see from white supremacists at the very top, like President Trump, whether it be words like “Islam hates us” or using dog whistles like “invasion,” this is emboldening terrorists like the terrorist in New Zealand, in Christchurch. We can see the exact same language being used in his manifesto. So, you know, I write in the book, in the American Islamophobia book, that it’s important to kind of think about this political rhetoric as far more than just words, but actual dictates, that are authorizing individuals on the ground to engage in this vigilante violence and to inflict extreme tragedy onto individuals who look like the kind of invaders that Trump is talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about, well, what’s the title of your book, Khaled Beydoun, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear.

KHALED BEYDOUN: So, the book looks to track the history, the genesis, the evolution of Islamophobia as both a popular but also a state-sponsored phenomenon. What’s happened in recent years, with the rise of Trump, is that Islamophobia has become recognized as a form of animus, a form of bigotry. But in the book, I try to show that this form of animus and this form of racism and anti-religious bigotry has deep roots in the United States, both in the legal system, in the media imagination, in the political discourses. There’s an underbelly of anti-Muslim animus that facilitates the emergence of the very brazen Islamophobia we see today, weaponized by people like President Trump or by terrorists on the ground in places like New Zealand who commit massacres like we saw on Friday.

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