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At White House Iftar, Trump Continues Whitewashing State Violence

Breaking the fast with war criminals won’t bring U.S. Muslims any closer to obtaining justice.

President Trump speaks at an iftar, the meal that breaks the sunrise-to-sundown fast of Muslims celebrating Ramadan, at the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2019.

The annual White House iftars, initiated under the Clinton administration, are a theoretical effort to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. This year, anyone listening to President Trump’s speech at the White House iftar on May 13 might have thought there was no Muslim ban in place, that the U.S. wasn’t bombing Muslim-majority countries, and that the Muslim community both domestically and abroad wasn’t being targeted in the “war on terror.”

Those present might have also forgotten about the fact that Trump’s day started by attacking a Muslim Palestinian member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, two weeks after attacking another Muslim representative, Ilhan Omar, who faced death threats after Trump maligned her on Twitter.

Trump and his administration have made no secret of the fact that they have targeted Muslims in both domestic and foreign policy. Thus, the iftar, rather than being a celebration of the Muslim fast, was instead a disingenuous attempt at convincing the public that Muslims aren’t being uniquely targeted — something that couldn’t be further from the truth.

However, instead of focusing on the inherent irony involved in honoring a fundamental part of Islam — fasting — while at the same time targeting the adherents of Islam, some critics have focused instead on the fact that, for the last two years, the Trump administration has evidently excluded U.S. Muslims from the iftar.

This sentiment is highly misplaced for anyone who is concerned about the Trump administration’s rampant and deeply embedded policy platform of Islamophobia. Instead of asking why U.S. Muslims weren’t invited to the iftar, we might ask instead why any Muslim would opt to go, knowing the harm this administration has caused their communities, both in the United States and abroad.

To be clear, however, this criticism has long applied to iftars. Those attending them when they first began under the Clinton administration, or even under the Bush or Obama administrations, might have reasoned that all three made reasonable efforts to reach out to the Muslim community.

This, however, still minimizes the fact that it was the Bush administration that built the war on terror infrastructure that has continued to target Muslims, and that the Obama administration perpetuated Bush’s policies. Thus, the only significant difference between administrations is the extent to which Islamophobia was disguised, and not necessarily the gravity of the violence that Muslims have continued to be subjected to.

In addition to the critique that U.S. Muslims weren’t in attendance, those who were invited represented “autocratic and repressive governments,” and “regimes that routinely oppress innocent citizens and violate the rights of women, minorities and free-thinking people,” according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

This may very well have been true (the invitation list wasn’t made public, a departure from the Obama administration), and makes perfect sense, given that the administration has emboldened many dictators and autocrats across the globe. Moreover, Trump has engaged in many of the same repressive tactics of governing that have been ascribed to “third world” leaders. As with administrations past, the U.S. under Trump has continued to wage endless wars, and repress communities domestically and abroad.

Trump stated in his speech Monday, perhaps as an additional measure of acquiescence, that, “Ramadan is a time when people joined forces in pursuit of hope, tolerance, and peace. It is in this spirit that we come together tonight.” If the context of the statement wasn’t known, it might have sounded promising. Instead, this quote reads like a backhanded compliment to those who embrace “tolerance” — presumably no one who opposes or resists the Trump administration’s repressive policies toward Muslims and/or the Middle East, especially pertaining to Palestine, whether in the move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or in the carte blanche check to bomb Palestine out of existence.

Trump also highlighted the multiple attacks on religious communities in recent months, saying, “In their blessed memory, we resolve to defeat the evils of terrorism and religious persecution so that all people can worship without fear, pray without danger, and live by the faith that flows from their heart.” Not only does this statement obscure the fact that Trump has only stoked the fires of Islamophobia during an event meant to honor Muslims, it also mentions terrorism in a way that only further cements a connection to violence and Islam.

Lastly, Trump went on to say, “We thank God that America is a place founded on the belief that citizens of all faiths can live together in safety and live together in freedom.” Obviously, this statement could not be further from the truth, and rather than use his time to indicate how to create a country that does look like what he describes, he chose to obscure the truth once again — as if those living this reality will be swayed by meaningless words.

So long as the U.S. government continues to wage violence against the Muslim community on the basis of collective responsibility and punishment, annual iftars will remain nothing less than a government-sponsored whitewashing effort. The guest list is not what will stop violence against Muslims; it’s the work done to directly challenge and resist such violence.

Coming to the table with war criminals won’t bring us any closer to obtaining justice. But collective resistance with the goal of liberation just might.

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