On December 7, 2015, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released a statement calling for a ban on all Muslim entry into the United States until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Trump refused to apologize, asserting that it was “probably not politically correct, but I don’t care.” This was in response to the San Bernardino shooting in California the week prior, which killed 14 civilians and was carried out by a Muslim couple.
His remarks were condemned by all major US politicians, the mainstream media and civil society. Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has taken swings at Muslims on multiple occasions, even suggesting that Muslims be registered in a database. To top it all off, he humorously claimed that no Muslim sports stars exist in the United States, forgetting the likes of Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In the midst of “Trumpism,” it is important to remember that this latest round in Muslim bashing did not simply manifest when Trump made his presidential ambitions known; the seeds were sown a long time ago. While today, people are hoping George W. Bush would intervene and “save” his party from the likes of Trump, Bush’s controversy-ridden presidency and that of his successor have laid the grounds for the anti-Muslim rhetoric Trump continues to champion without hesitation.
The Bush Years
After 9/11, Bush’s “war on terror” ushered in policies that would ultimately put Muslim populations under severe scrutiny both within the United States and abroad. While Bush asserted that this was not a war on Islam, in the minds of many Muslims, it was difficult to not think otherwise.
Over the past 14 years, the Bush administration has held hundreds of Muslim prisoners in the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison. Many have been kept without ever being charged, or even after they were deemed innocent.
Stories of torture and humiliation of Muslim detainees at Guantánamo – as well as other CIA prisons – only confirmed suspicions that the “war on terror” was largely targeting Muslims. Extensive torture techniques that include sleep deprivation, verbal abuse and waterboarding were routine, and the victims of these techniques were mostly Muslims. Desecration of the Quran and Islamophobic verbal abuse became a norm in evoking Muslim prisoners throughout their time in the Caribbean-based penitentiary.
While outrage erupted over these deplorable methods, the US government remained defiant, with Bush officials continuing to defend torture techniques as legitimate.
On the domestic front, legislation such as the Patriot Act essentially gave the Bush administration a free hand to interrogate and surveil US individuals and organizations it deemed suspect. It did not come as a surprise that the prime targets of this policy have been individual Muslims, mosques and Muslim or Islamic organizations.
A report by Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization in the United States, accused law enforcement agencies of profiling Muslims, using informants and “asking Muslims prohibited questions about their religious beliefs and practices.”
“FBI agents are instructed to view Muslims with suspicion by, for example, looking out for converts to Islam and those who wear traditional Muslim attire, attend mosques, and have strong religious beliefs,” the report states.
The Obama Era
American Muslims and those abroad were hopeful when Bush left office in 2008. Unfortunately, anti-Muslim sentiment continues to remain high under the current president. While President Obama has maintained Bush’s line that the United States is not at war with Islam, his policies have been at odds with those promises.
Drone campaigns in Muslim-majority nations such as Pakistan have resulted in dwindling support for Obama among Muslims globally since 2008. In a recent leak, it has been estimated that 90 percent of individuals assassinated were unintended targets. The US government, however, has continued to assert that its targets are overwhelmingly “militants,” essentially labeling segments of Muslim populations as disposable.
According to journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, the discussion on drones has been very limited, except in cases where non-Muslim Westerners are claimed to have been killed in the attacks. “American and Western victims of violence by Muslims are endlessly mourned, while Muslim victims of American and Western violence are completely disappeared,” Greenwald writes.
While Obama has repeatedly called for an end to plots to divide Muslims and non-Muslims, he is often seen by some as failing to recognize the work done by Muslims to counter extremist violence. In a speech after the California attacks, Obama alarmingly called on the Muslim community to rid extremism from its confines with “no excuses.” This of course adds to the exhaustion that many Muslims feel from being consistently held responsible for the actions of a few within their ranks, when in fact every major Muslim organization has repeatedly denounced terrorism involving Muslims since 9/11, going to great lengths to rid the image of Muslims as being inherently violent. For many young Muslims, the constant Islamophobia and expectation to prove that their religion is peaceful is thoroughly exhausting.
Trump may have crossed the line several times over, but he is not working alone. He is simply taking advantage of an environment that has been fostering anti-Muslim sentiment since the start of this century, if not earlier. The past 14 years of systemic domestic and foreign policies that brutally target Muslims have set the stage for the hotel mogul’s frightening exploits.