World leaders and analysts say President Donald Trump’s retweets Wednesday of anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British political group crossed a line.
Mr. Trump’s apparent endorsement Wednesday of the three videos, which claim to show violent acts carried out by Muslims, isn’t the first time the president has drawn criticism for promoting Islamophobic or otherwise racist views, either on Twitter or in speeches to his supporters. But the backlash he received Wednesday, particularly in Britain, was more severe. Trump has not taken down the retweets, despite several calls for him to do so.
Despite the criticism, some leaders, like Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad of Bahrain, said the tweets don’t affect their view of the U.S., or of Trump. The Crown Prince, who met with Trump on Thursday, told PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins that the United States promotes tolerance, as does his kingdom.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the president. It won’t change anything,” he added.
But others, like the UK’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, were harshly critical of Trump. The retweets “are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society,” Corbyn wrote on Twitter.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters outside the White House that she was not sure how the president found the videos, nor whether he endorsed the far-right group.
“I’m not talking about [the] nature of the video, I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing,” she told reporters. “The threat is real, that’s what the president is talking about … the need for national security, need for military spending, and those are very real things, and there’s nothing fake about that.”
We asked political leaders, analysts and civil rights advocates what Trump’s retweets mean for Muslims in the U.S., and for America’s relationship with the world.
“What the president is doing is inciting [hate] against an entire group of people, there’s no other way to read or interpret this,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. For Trump supporters, “if you’re already predisposed to not liking Muslims, how could you not end up hating Muslims more? In that sense there’s a real tangible concern here,” Hamid added.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in general is not new, but the tweets amplify and “add to the false story that Muslims are violent and not compatible with a democratic society,” said Rizwan Jaka of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS Center, the second-largest mosque in the U.S.
“This is on track to be the worst year ever in terms of hate incidents targeting Muslims in America,” in part because of Trump’s rhetoric, said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, citing his organization’s analysis of hate incidents. Wednesday’s tweets have “given the green light to his followers to go after American Muslims,” he added.
Anti-Muslim sentiment also impacts Sikhs and Hindus in America, Jaka said. The retweets reinforce “ false stereotypes on the internet that are trying to say that Muslims are more violent or trying to impose their faith. These are all untrue,” Jaka said. He added that Muslims were partners with law enforcement and wanted to protect their communities.
Wednesday’s tweets aren’t a single event — they’re part of a “breathtakingly rapid erosion of American standing in the world,” said David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment. The fact that they are compounded daily suggests the situation will only grow worse. We should consider the retweets along with “action taken to translate such feelings into law like the refugee ban or the Wall. We need to consider how not having a State Department to mitigate such problems exacerbates them. We need to consider how our withdrawal from a leadership role in the world effects this, the consequences of Charlottesville and the president’s embrace of white supremacists, the message having a dysfunctional Congress that doesn’t stand up to the president sends,” Rothkopf said.
The tweets may “reinforce the notion among extremists here in the U.S. that Mr. Trump endorses their views,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. “And these extremists are not limited to anti-Muslim bigotry, but often traffic in anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Black, anti-Latino hate.”
And extremists worldwide will use quotes, pictures, tweets and video clips by our president to build their arguments for violence making Americans less safe, said Farah Pandith, who served in senior capacities under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and now is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “A nation that promotes disrespect or hate and violence toward Muslims will reduce opportunities with both our diplomatic and commercial partners,” said Pandith, who also wrote the forthcoming book “How We Win: How Cutting-Edge Entrepreneurs, Political Visionaries, Enlightened Business Leaders and Social Media Mavens Can Defeat the Extremist Threat. ”
When it comes to policy, the differences between Trump and many European leaders might not be so stark. “I think the EU leaders will follow May’s example and distance themselves. But my question would be: How different are their policies than Trump’s?” said Zareena A. Grewal, an associate professor who focuses on ethnicity, race and migration at Yale. “What is their role in the refugee crisis and, like Trump, are they supporting militarized and clamped down borders, racial profiling, and enacting their own so-called Muslim bans?”
Trump has “further institutionalized Islamophobia in the West by peddling a conspiratorial anti-Muslim tweet from a known right-wing white supremacist British organization,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, an author and senior research fellow for The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, which aims to bring more awareness to the study of Islamaphobia. “The fact that David Duke — a former Grand Wizard of the KU Klux Klan — praised Trump’s anti-Muslim tweet also further shows the racist depths of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
How a president promotes respect or hate is a national security issue, Pandith said. “Terrorist organizations like ISIS or al-Qaida build their brand and gain recruits by fueling the idea that the west is at war with Islam, that there is an ‘us versus them.’ Every word, action, implication, and opinion by an American president is a signal not only to our nation’s citizens but also to citizens of the world — especially the nearly 1 billion Muslims under 30 worldwide, who are targeted by ISIS-like extremists — that this is who we are as Americans, and that indeed, the extremists are right about us.”
It’s not yet clear what impact this will have on Trump’s relationship with May or other world leaders. “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” May said through a spokesperson. But the invitation for Trump to make a state visit would not be withdrawn, the spokesperson said, despite opposition Wednesday from some members of Parliament. “He is no ally or friend of ours. Donald Trump you are not welcome in my country and my city,” Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy wrote on Twitter.
PBS NewsHour’s Daniel Bush and Layla Quran reported for this story.