Donald Trump and Manufacturing the Muslim Menace

About Erin Kelly

Protests against the travel ban occurred in many international airports across the country. Here, a crowd gathers at SFO on January 29, 2017 (photo: Kenneth Lu via Flickr).

Trump’s first week in office was punctuated by an executive order to ban travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and refugee admissions for 120 days. Under the order, Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.1 This has all been done under the guise of “national security,” spearheaded by men with a history of anti-Muslim ideology.

Despite the Right’s claim of patriotic allegiance to the constitution, the ACLU found many clear violations associated with Trump’s orders, calling him a “one-man constitutional crisis.”2The ink was barely dry on Trump’s order before even national security experts spoke against the ban.

Former CIA counterterrorism case officer Patrick Skinner, who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence advisor for General Petraeus3, called Trump’s actions immoral, stupid, and counterproductive, noting: “We’ve got military, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel on the ground right now in Syria, Libya, and Iraq who are working side by side with the people, embedded in combat, and training and advising. At no time in the US’s history have we depended more on local—and I mean local—partnerships for counterterrorism. We need people in Al Bab, Syria; we depend on people in a certain part of eastern Mosul, Iraq; in Cert, Libya. At the exact moment we need them most, we’re telling these people, ‘Get screwed.’”4

Kirk Johnson, who worked for the US Agency for International Development in Fallujah, said the ban will “have immediate national security implications, in that we are not going to be able to recruit people to help us right now, and people are not going to step forward to help us in any future wars if this is our stance.”5

Trump fueled his campaign with Islamophobic rhetoric. During his campaign in 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of the entry of Muslims” and said “it is obvious the hatred is beyond comprehension” (Ironically, he was referring to Muslims.)6 He consistently criticized President Obama and Secretary Clinton for refusing to refer to “radical Islamic terrorism.” (They instead referred to them as “acts of terror and hate.”)7

Click to read our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.

These shifts in semantics and cultural sensitivity arose after the Obama administration investigated and overhauled counterterrorism training in 2013, much of which was nestled in xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and led by for-profit security firms. These firms—hired to train military and enforcement personnel on counterterrorism tactics—used generalized, inaccurate, and dangerous stereotypes designed to provoke suspicion, xenophobia, and religious hatred. These trainings and their leaders—many of whom were aligned with neoconservative Christian organizations—were studied extensively by the PRA over nine months and published in our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, the Threat to Rights and Security. It is important now to re-visit some of those findings:

  • Government agencies responsible for domestic security had/have inadequate mechanisms to ensure quality and consistency in terrorism preparedness training provided by private vendors.
  • Public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of terror threats.
  • In place of sound skills training and intelligence briefings, a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry has marketed conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam—a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents—as inherently violent and even terroristic.

The report notes that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security expressed the importance of semantics in defining the terrorist threat, and—after meeting with influential Muslim American scholars equally concerned with acts of terror—found three tenants to be useful in describing such acts:

  • Do not demonize all Muslims or Islam.
  • Some terrorists believe their actions are based in theology and are therefore valid—as such, we should remove that validation by using accurate and descriptive language; i.e., avoiding the use of “jihadist,” as “jihad” has varied, textured, and non-violent meaning for Muslims worldwide.
  • Private and public servants should be conscious of history, culture, and context.

Rather than adhering to these and other principles, “counterterrorism experts” implied that Muslims who “practice their religion properly” are required to impose jihadist violence against Americans, the PRA report found. These alleged experts have made numerous dubious and dangerous claims, including:

  • Jihadists pose as civil rights advocates and patiently recruit until almost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands.
  • Jihadists who put off militant action are simply waiting until their holy moment comes.
  • Muslims are stealthily infiltrating the United States from within, intending to make it a Muslim nation.
  • Muslims are aligned with Satan.

Unfortunately, government standards for homeland security professionals’ certification appear undefined and by presenting themselves as law enforcement and intelligence specialists, these organizations and spokespeople lend their credentials to religious bigotry.

PRA’s report went on to outline some of the dangers of these training methods, all of which are prevalent in the wake of Trump’s actions:

  • Biased intelligence analysis.
  • Unlawful searches, surveillance, and actions.
  • Violence and hate crimes.
  • Threats to free speech.

The 2013 overhaul under the Obama administration sought to avoid these dangers by referring to acts of terror accordingly and maintaining respect for a religion in which the vast majority of its followers are peaceful. In a matter of weeks, the current administration reversed such overhauls and regressed back to stereotypical anti-Muslim dialogue. In addition to enforcing a moratorium on entrants from Muslim-majority countries, Trump will now focus counter-extremism solely on Islam,8 even though more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants since 9/11.9

Our 2015 report, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf,” provides comprehensive information on how the government, media, and Right Wing approach the issue of terrorism, and how these issues are framed through semantics, enforcement of laws, and politics. Sociologist Naomi Braine finds that “the differential treatment of right-wing and Muslim cases draws attention to the political contexts surrounding terrorism-related law enforcement … mainstream conservative politicians and [media] protest depictions of right-wing militants as anything more than troubled but patriotic Americans, while Muslim men … are constantly monitored as intrinsic security risks. In the process, Muslims lose Constitutional protections for belief, speech, and association—forced to inhabit an ambiguous territory as ‘un-American.’”10

Sadly, an example of this differential treatment played out before the American public after the Quebec mosque shooting on January 29, in which a right-wing militant named Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six people. As of February 8, Trump—who took time to condemn an attack at the Louvre by 29-year-old Abdullah Hamamy—remained completely devoid of a direct response.11

It’s alarming that the leader of our country has aligned himself so undeniably with the generalized concept of the Muslim menace that he has already caused irreparable damage to national security—jeopardizing tens of thousands of lives and causing a crisis that “will do long-term damage,” as government leaders noted12—all in the name of national security.

Endnotes

[1] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017, https://thinkprogress.org/trump-who-campaigned-on-a-muslim-ban-says-to-stop-calling-it-a-muslim-ban-630961d0fbcf#.vwgpyd6e3.

[2] Anthony Romero, “Donald Trump: A One-Man Constitutional Crisis,” ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/feature/donald-trump-one-man-constitutional-crisis.

[3] The Soufan Group, “Patrick Skinner,” http://soufangroup.com/about/team/patrick-m-skinner/28/.

[4] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-muslim-refugee-ban-disaster-national-security

[5] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-muslim-refugee-ban-disaster-national-security

[6] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017, https://thinkprogress.org/trump-who-campaigned-on-a-muslim-ban-says-to-stop-calling-it-a-muslim-ban-630961d0fbcf#.vwgpyd6e3.

[7] Jeremy Diamond and Nicole Gaouette, “Does it Matter if Obama Uses the Term ‘Islamic Terrorism’?” CNN, June 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/politics/islamic-terrorism-trump-obama-clinton/.

[8] Julia Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke, “Trump to Focus Counter-Extremism Program Solely on Islam,” Reuters, February 2, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-extremists-program-exclusiv-idUSKBN15G5VO

[9] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.36kbR5kc.dpbs

[10] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.36kbR5kc.dpbs

[11] May Bulman, “Kellyanne Conway Defends Donald Trump’s Silence Over Quebec Mosque Shooting,” The Independent, February 8, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kellyanne-conway-defends-donald-trump-s-silence-over-quebec-mosque-shooting-a7568686.html

[12] Laura Koran, Elise Labott and Jim Sciutto, “Ex-National Security Officials in Both Parties Protest Trump Order,” CNN, January 30, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/letter-opposition-trump-immigration-order/.

Erin Kelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. She has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and women’s studies from McNeese State University and a master’s degree from Rosemont College. Kelly, a longtime writer and editor, is a contributor to the Library Journal, where she specializes in historical non-fiction, social science, and religious non-fiction.