Dismantling Mainstream Islamophobia in the Age of Trump

Written by Orsod Malik

Image by Femi Anderson

09.02.17

Amidst all the chaos that has erupted since his exit, the widely adored 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, issued an official statement last week in support of the recent demonstrations opposing Donald Trump’s ‘travel ban’.

In the statement, Kevin Lewis [former spokesperson to the president] implicitly conveys Obama’s disapproval of the Trump administration’s ‘travel ban’, which has suspended immigration from seven majority Muslim countries. We are reminded that “Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake”.

The notion that “American values” are suddenly at stake because Muslims are being explicitly targeted ignores nearly two decades of American anti-Muslim propaganda. It turns a blind eye to a steady flow of islamophobia that long predates Trump, and has morally justified wars abroad, hate crimes domestically and widespread discrimination against Muslim people.

The statement issued by Obama implies that Trump’s ‘travel ban’ represents a uniquely illogical development in American domestic and foreign affairs. It is as if Obama is using Trump’s actions to wash his hands of a project that he inherited from the Bush administration. A project that he continued to diligently facilitate during his time in office by focusing the military might of empire on bombing four Muslim majority countries, two of which are subsequently affected by Trump’s ‘travel ban’.

Once we look beyond Obama’s smooth rhetoric – which skillfully conceals the crimes of empire with every utterance – it becomes clear that the ‘travel ban’ is not illogical. Rather, the ban is a wholly rational advancement of the global ‘war on terror’ and its ongoing persecution of Muslims the world over.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the ‘war on terror’ – spearheaded by Western liberals and conservatives alike since 2001 – has been its seamless integration into everyday language.

Since the turn of the century, the language used to disseminate the ideologies that underpin the ‘war on terror’ have succeeded in synonymizing the word ‘Muslim’ with ‘terrorist’ in the popular Western cultural imaginary. This has enabled the far-right, center-right and center-left to conceal their racialized concerns – regarding members of the Islamic faith – behind the rhetoric of self-defense, national security, the protection of liberal values and cultural homogeneity.

This legacy of racism and xenophobia towards Muslims was internationalized by the Bush administration, cunningly maintained by the Obama administration and, if left unchecked, will lead us into oblivion under the Trump administration.

As we continue to build our resistance, we must remember that vilifying 1.6 billion of the world’s population did not begin with Trump. Rather, it has been a long and ideologically systematic process that has not been all that difficult to ignore for non-Muslim folk, until now.

Currently there exists a great opportunity, an opportunity that would not have existed if Hillary had won the election. Trump has put an end to the ‘post-racial age’ by refusing to rhetorically obscure state racism and xenophobia like his neoliberal predecessors and his struggling liberal counterparts in Europe.

During the first two weeks of a Trump presidency I have witnessed the re-humanization of Muslims in mainstream discourse. The recent international mass-demonstrations in support of Muslims of all races and nationalities; the telling of a variety of stories about Muslims; Muslim activists taking center stage at demonstrations; the organization of mass prayers; these have all contributed to mounting a direct challenge not just against Trump, but more importantly against a discourse that has sought to dehumanize us for too long.

Our visibility, our voices and the growing support from non-Muslim folk continues to contribute towards the dismantling of the frames of anti-Muslim discourse that has underpinned the last sixteen years of American imperialism and the rise of neo-fascism.

The conditions for mass resistance and organization have not been this fertile in decades. But neither has the danger of staying silent been so great. The rapid rise of right-wing populism and white nationalism in Europe and North America threatens the very existence of so many Muslims and People of Colour. Trump, Richard Spencer, Farage and Le Pen are all taking full advantage of the collapse of neo-liberal establishment politics. We must do the same.

We must continue to organize, continue to build transnational networks of resistance, continue to challenge and pressure politicians, especially those who seem to be on our side. We must work to tell stories that are often ignored, and to offer context so that we are better equipped to accurately target our enemies and the political and economic ideologies they support.

We must continue. We mustn’t stop.