Donald Trump, the President of the United States, sent his Twitter followers three tweets and videos from Jayda Fransen, one of the duo of far-right extremists who lead Britain First. The screaming 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!"
When Trump retweeted these videos to his 44 million followers he, in effect, promoted the worldview 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 the specific culpability of Muslims, providing a clear context that people of this faith are associated with acts of violence like those shown. It's clear that the inten is to smear and stigmatize Muslims as a collective - and that is a strategy that Britain First has used time and time again in its promotion of online nationalistic extremism.
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 hate crimes towards Jews spike 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. In those hate crimes, innocent Muslims going about their everyday lives are abused, sometimes assaulted; mosques are also damaged.
After the brutal terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London in 2013, 34 mosques reported to Tell MAMA of attacks in the three months after that 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 to us.
These sharp rises don't happen because people overnight change their opinions and 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.
It's almost an ironic aside that the President of the United States, who likes to trumpet his opponents' "fake news", has himself, by circulating such material, has amplified genuinely fake news, since one of the videos highlighted ("Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy"), was untrue and inaccurate. That hypocrisy does nothing to warrant confidence in his judgement.
This is a man who does not, thankfully, actually follow Jayda Fransen on Twitter, yet he is part of other Twitter circles that clearly made it simple to find her material to recirculate.
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 center as part of his presidency. Yet, by doing what he did Wednesday, he has presented groups like Islamic State, Al Qaeda and many Islamist extremist groups, with confirmation (in their eyes) of their narrative that the West sees Muslims as the enemy, and doesn't even bother to filter that view with equivocating words any more.
We all know that this Islamist narrative is used to pull people towards extremism. When President Trump retweets this material, he has strengthened their hands and all those Islamist groups who feed on a victim narrative. His action thus materially strengthen Islamist extremist groups, weaken those Muslims working towards cohesion and integration, and further radicalize others who are drawn to the easy narrative that the ‘clash of civilisations’ is still inevitable.
This is what I want to say to Trump:
"Mr President, your actions in retweeting extremist far-right material strengthens the very groups you purportedly 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 diverge after today’s retweets, is that I also detest and actively challenge far-right anti-Muslim groups. You, on the other hand, made the decision to amplify their toxic material.
"I am trying to assume this is a mistake. But if it isn’t, how can you really claim the moral high ground when you're tackling extremism and terrorism?"
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