Donald Trump, the President of the United States, retweeted three tweets and videos from Jayda Fransen, one of the duo of far right extremists who leads Britain First. The captions on the video which Trump retweeted read “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!”, “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”
Trump retweeted these videos to 44million followers and, in effect, promoted the world view of Fransen and her poisonous group that Muslims, as a whole, are a potential threat to peace and stability within European communities. The statements in the videos stress Muslims on a number of occasions and provide a contextual background to viewers that people of this faith are associated with acts of violence. To some, this would read as Muslims as a whole and it is a strategy that Britain First has used time and time again in the promotion of its online extremism.
As a President who trumpets ‘fake news’, the hypocrisy of retweeting actual fake news with the Dutch video does nothing to warrant confidence in his judgement. This is a man who thankfully does not follow Jayda Fransen, yet he managed to find material from her which he recirculated. This is also a President who is supposed to be the leader of the ‘free world’ and whose values are supposedly based on protecting those very democratic rights that brought him into power. He is also a President who has put national security front and centre as part of his presidency.
Yet, by doing what he did this morning, he has presented groups like Islamic State, Al Qaeda and many Islamist extremist groups, with confirmation (in their eyes), that the West is against them and out to destroy them. We all know and realise that this Islamist narrative is used to pull people towards extremism, though when the President retweets material, he has strengthened their hands and those groups who play to a victim narrative. In essence, such actions strengthen Islamist extremist groups, weaken those Muslims working towards cohesion and integration and further radicalise others who are drawn to the easy narrative that there is yet to be a ‘clash of civilisations’.
As the founder and former director of Tell MAMA, I know full well how hate crimes are triggered by statements and national and international events. Just as Jews are targeted for hate in countries like the UK when there are military activities and assaults in the Middle East, so there are large spikes in anti-Muslim hate incidents when terrorist attacks take place in Europe, where innocent Muslims going about their everyday lives are abused, sometimes assaulted and where some mosques are also damaged.
For example, after the brutal terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, we counted 34 mosques that reported into Tell MAMA which were attacked in 3 months after the brutal murder by Islamist extremists. Between May 2013 and June 2017, there were 167 mosques that were attacked in the UK. After the Westminster, London Bridge and Manchester terrorist attacks, there was a 250%, 456% and 312% rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents that were reported into Tell MAMA.
These sharp rises do not happen because people overnight change opinion and then decide that they are going to abuse an innocent fellow citizen who happens to be Muslim. Such incidents are a trigger for latent hatred and ill feeling towards Muslim communities, some of which no doubt, Britain First plays on, supports and feeds through its hateful material. Furthermore, today we know that the President of the United States circulates such material and certainly has amplified fake news, since one of the videos highlighted, that of a ‘Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy’, was untrue and inaccurate.
So, there is only one thing I want to say to Trump if he ever reads this article:
Mr President, your actions in retweeting extremist far right material strengthens the very groups you purport to want to weaken. Both you and I detest Islamist extremism and terrorism and I say that as a proud British Muslim. But where you and I will possibly diverge after today’s retweets, is that I also detest and actively challenge far right anti-Muslim groups. You on the other hand, retweet and amplify their material. I am assuming this is a mistake, but if it isn’t, can you really claim the moral high ground around tackling extremism and terrorism?
Fiyaz Mughal is the founder of Tell MAMA, and founder and director of Faith Matters