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  December 3, 2017

Trump Takes Post-9/11 Islamophobia to New Lows

President Trump has caused outrage for retweeting three anti-Muslim videos from the fringe right-wing group Britain First. We speak to Aymann Ismail, whose new Slate series "Who's Afraid of Aymann Ismail?" explores Muslim identity and Islamophobia
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Aymann Ismail is a video editor and producer at Slate whose work focuses on identity and politics. His current project is "Who's Afraid of Aymann Ismail?" a video series moving beyond stereotypes of both Muslims and their self-professed adversaries, finding hope and fault in both, to ultimately try to assess whether our cultural divides really are as profound as they seem.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Maté.

President Trump has caused outrage for retweeting three anti-Muslim videos from the French-British right-wing group Britain First, but, instead of apologizing, the White House had defended Trump's tweets.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about. That's what the president is focused on is dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it.

REPORTER: It doesn't matter if the video is fake?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I'm not talking about the nature of the video. I think you're focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real.

AARON MATÉ: I'm joined now by Aymann Ismail, video editor and producer at Slate. His current project is "Who's Afraid of Aymann Ismail?" a video series that explores Muslim identity and Islamophobia. His latest piece for Slate is called "How It Felt for American Muslims to Wake Up to Trump Retweeting Anti-Islam Fascists."

Welcome, Aymann. Let's start with the title of your piece. How did it feel as an American Muslim to see Trump retweeting these tweets?

AYMANN ISMAIL: Thanks for having me. In a nutshell, it just feels exhausting to constantly having to feel like you need to separate yourself from terrorists. There's no doubt that a threat of radicalism exists, but to constantly having them be conflated with Muslims as a whole is, for lack of a better term, just exhausting.

Trump has been very relentless about this. He's been doing this since 2011 when he was suggesting that Obama isn't even a legitimate president because he may have been a Muslim or because his dad was a Muslim, and we've seen it on the campaign trail where he was suggesting that ... or one of the people who was asking him a question asked him what was he going to do about the Muslim problem in America and he sort of laughed it off.

He was also quoted again about, being asked if he thought Islam hated us, and he said, "Yeah, I think Islam hates us," so as a Muslim person living in America, you sort of anticipate this language coming from the president, and the fact that he endorsed a known minority fascist group from the UK is all but expected, and it's just more of the same problem.

AARON MATÉ: Let's go to a clip of that British group. This is their leader issuing her thanks to President Trump, their deputy leader, I should say. Here she is.

JAYDA FRANSEN: This is a message to the President of the United States Donald Trump. I'd like to start by saying how delighted I am that, as the leader of the free world, you took the time out to retweet three of my videos on Twitter today.

AARON MATÉ: That was Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the group Britain First, whose tweets Trump retweeted.

Aymann, can you talk about who this group is? I mean, she followed up her thanks to Trump by asking him for help, in her case, which is currently facing charges for inciting hatred against Muslims in the UK.

AYMANN ISMAIL: Yeah, I first heard about this group maybe two years ago. They marched through a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in London brandishing these giant white crosses, instigating confrontation, and then they edited it down into this highly sensationalized video, trying to instigate some kind of clash of religions.

It really sucks being a Muslim who wants to be part of the West, who spends his entire life living in the West having to constantly be exposed to this kind of hatred and this kind of misguided anger towards extremism, but targeted towards you as an individual.

I think what this group ... Their goal is very simple, and it's just to expose Islam for what it is, and they believe it to be perfectly practiced by groups like ISIS, but for the ... Just the fact that ISIS is being fought by on every side by Muslims and being destroyed by Muslim armies, that's all the evidence you need that Islam is much more complicated than that and that, the war on terror, it has to involve Muslims. It can't be the West versus Islam. Otherwise, you'll never ... This is never going to be resolved.

AARON MATÉ: Let's go through some of these clips that President Trump co-signed with his tweets. Okay, so the first one is of some teenagers seeming to rough up another teenager, and it's building the video as a Muslim migrant in the Netherlands.

It turns out though, and the Dutch government told this to President Trump on Twitter, that actually the boy who is said to be a Muslim migrant is not a Muslim migrant, but in fact Dutch, so, essentially, they're showing a video here of teenagers being bullies, but implying somehow that that is emblematic of a problem of Muslim youths attacking innocent white Dutch teenagers.

AYMANN ISMAIL: Yeah, it's kind of sad. This is not the first time that they've been caught fabricating what they'll call evidence of some sort of Muslim barbarism. They've been caught taking footage of Pakistani Londoners celebrating a cricket match and posting it with the caption, "Look, these Muslims are celebrating terrorism in the West."

They've also been caught taking footage of this mock slave auction to raise awareness about slave auctions in the Middle East, but they repurposed it and re-captioned it, saying, "Hey, look, here's a real auction that Muslims are having in the West."

It's really pathetic you think to just having to keep constantly inventing evidence to support your hatred, and the only thing that makes it worse is that how many people believe it.

AARON MATÉ: Another video shows a militant in Syria smashing up a statue of the Virgin Mary. Now, it turns out that this militant was apparently a member of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, who later on joined the group ISIS.

I was thinking one irony there is that Jabhat al-Nusra actually is one of the militant groups in Syria that received indirectly U.S. support through their program of covert aid to Syrian militants, and so here is President Trump holding up someone as an example of Muslim identity who actually the U.S. has indirectly supported and is part of the group that has caused a lot of strife and bloodshed primarily against Muslims.

AYMANN ISMAIL: Yeah, it's really disgusting, and I think the biggest problem with that, especially in the way that the video was presented, is that you ... It feels impossible to think of anything other than some sort of clash of religions.

It looks like here's this Muslim who's declaring war against Christianity, so if I were a Christian who had no exposure to Islam and I saw that, I'd feel this immense hostility coming from every Muslim. It's really disheartening because at the same time, earlier this year, after Mosul was expelled ... after ISIS was expelled from Mosul, there was this huge effort by Muslims who were local to rebuild the churches that were destroyed by ISIS.

It's really disheartening, and it almost feels like these kinds of videos are working in favor of ISIS and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra by expanding their propaganda and presenting them as if they have the clout and the representation of all of Islam within them. Like it really works against Muslims and Islam as a whole in their own war of ideas against groups like ISIS.

AARON MATÉ: You mentioned churches, so that reminds me of, has President Trump retweeted videos of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist shooting up that church in South Carolina? Or, most recently, of that former U.S. soldier shooting up the church in Texas and saying that this is somehow emblematic of a pathology with white people?

AYMANN ISMAIL: If he would, he would have to mention that there were good people on both sides, so.

AARON MATÉ: Right. Exactly. Right, as he did with the white supremacists in Charlottesville. I'm curious, seeing the reaction yesterday to Trump retweeting these posts from this anti-Muslim extremist group in Britain, do you think that the issue got sufficient attention and outrage? I mean, it became a major issue. Theresa May, the British prime minister, even weighed in, but, at the same time, there was lots of other news yesterday that seemed to overshadow it. I'm wondering if you felt as if it was handled properly by the media and public.

AYMANN ISMAIL: I think the media can only do so much. I'm more so still waiting on the GOP and members of Congress and everyone else in power with influence on Trump to really stand up for American values and stand up for us Americans who felt like we were negatively impacted by these retweets and who now feel this anxiety in a time where hate crimes have surpassed 2001 levels after 9/11.

I don't think if Anderson Cooper goes on TV and denounces Trump that that's going to make a huge difference. I think they did it enough. There's only so much you could do in a 24-hour news cycle, but I think the government has a much bigger responsibility as far as coming out and condemning Trump for supporting a French group.

AARON MATÉ: We'll leave it there. Aymann Ismail, video editor and producer at Slate. His current project is called "Who's Afraid of Aymann Ismail?" a video series exploring Muslim identity and Islamophobia. His latest piece for Slate is called "How It Felt for American Muslims to Wake Up to Trump Retweeting Anti-Islam Fascists."

Aymann, thank you.

AYMANN ISMAIL: Thank you so much.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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