When asked by reporters on Wednesday about President Trump’s retweets of anti-Muslim videos, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “what the President is talking about is the need for national security, the need for military spending.”
Her talking points are out of date. The videos are not about “national security” at all. The first supposedly depicts a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches. (The assailant may have been neither a migrant nor Muslim). The second supposedly shows a Muslim man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary. It appears to have been filmed in Syria. The third apparently shows an “Islamist mob” pushing “a teenage boy off a roof.” It comes from Egypt. None involves terrorism against the United States or even Europe. None could have been prevented by more “military spending.”
Sanders is behind the times. Trump’s tweets show that, increasingly, America’s purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry no longer need terrorism as a rationalization. Islamophobia is finding new justifications, which don’t rely on ISIS or Al Qaeda detonating bombs in London or Chicago. And in that way, it’s embedding itself more deeply in America’s political terrain.
It’s no surprise that Trump may have learned about the videos from Ann Coulter, who has been at the forefront of this Islamophobia 2.0. Her 2016 book, Adios America, which Trump called “a great read,” is filled with descriptions of Muslim depravity. It declares that in Lewiston, Maine, “Somali boys roam the streets physically assaulting the locals.” It includes a section on “Muslim Rape Culture.” And it mocks “Muslim refugees from tribal societies” who are “thunderstruck by indoor plumbing.” It’s only peripherally about terrorism. For Coulter, the problem with letting Muslims enter the United States is not that they commit terrorism. Terrorism is merely a symptom of their deeper hostility to American values, a hostility that expresses itself in a wide variety of ways: from beating up white kids to raping white women to ripping off the welfare state to generally being unsanitary.
Read Breitbart and you’ll find the same, generalized, anti-Muslim sentiment. Breitbart publishes loads of headlines about Muslims, white women, and rape: “Halal Chief: ‘Australian Women Need Muslims to Fertilize Them’” (July 30), “Pakistani Gang’s Rape of White Girls Was Not Racist, Says Sentencing Judge” (September 6), “UK: Books in Islamic Schools Teach Marital Rape and Domestic Violence” (November 28). It serves up articles about Muslims and crime: “Almost Half of Crimes in Berlin Committed by Migrants” (September 25), Muslims and drugs: “German Police: Asylum Seekers Are Taking over Illegal Drug Trade,” (June 26), Muslims not assimilating: “Muslim Immigrants Must Not Assimilate, Says Progressive Ally Linda Sarsour” (July 7), Muslims threatening free speech: “Dodgy Data Islamic Group Demands Google Censor ‘Anti-Muslim’ Results,” (November 6), Muslims hating dogs: “Dogwalker Hospitalised After Attack By Somalian Migrant Who Said ‘Dogs are Unclean’” (July 18), Muslims abusing welfare: “Migrants Who ‘Fled War’ Use Welfare to Holiday in Homelands” (Jan 25) and Muslims discriminating against Christians: “Malaysia Opens Muslim-Only Laundromat to Ensure ‘Purity’ of Clothing” (October 2).
To be sure, Breitbart lavishly covers any terrorist attack involving a Muslim. But its interest in jihadist terrorism is merely a subset of its interest in Muslim depravity. When there are no terrorist attacks, it uncovers horror stories about Muslim Laundromats.
As with Trump’s videos, many of these stories come from Europe. The message is clear: Europe, which once succumbed to Nazis and Communists, is now succumbing to Muslims. America must keep these new barbarians out (and if they’re already here, down) because even if they don’t join ISIS, they’ll violate and defile us in myriad other ways.
Increasingly, the Trumpian right’s anti-Muslim bigotry conforms to the templates established by anti-black racism (Muslims are violent, lazy and a threat to white women) and by previous anti-immigrant scares (Muslims are disloyal and incapable of upholding democratic norms). Coulter often conflates the threat from Muslims and Latinos, both of whom contribute to the “browning of America.”
For years, liberals have argued that the American right’s obsession with terrorism (as opposed to, for instance, gun violence, which kills many more Americans) fuels Islamophobia. But more and more, the causality runs the other way: The American right’s Islamophobia fuels its obsession with terrorism. Thus, in terrorism’s absence, pro-Trump conservatives simply demonize Muslims for other things.
In the years to come, the “war on terror” could conceivably end. But the message of Trump’s retweets is that the assault on American Muslims, sadly, seems likely to go on and on.