Trump’s Cabinet of Islamophobes

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Trump’s election victory has obliterated the thin veneer of “melting pot” America, revealing the country’s racist core. This is no longer age-old politics as it has given brazen racism a national platform, and legitimized the marginalization of people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQI community.

Mainstream media responded to the elections by reframing the glaringly obvious racism and xenophobia of the American electorate into a legitimate grievance, pointing to white rural America as economically deprived and overlooked by the political system. Polls taken after the election, however, indicated that economic issues were third on the list of concerns for white Americans. The first two concerns were immigration (anti-Mexican/latinx) and national security (anti-Muslim/refugees).

White men and white women across all demographics overwhelmingly voted for an individual who had no political experience but promised to Make America Great Again. “Again” being the operative term here, as promises made by Trump allude to security and supremacy for white America.

For Muslim Americans, less that one percent of the U.S. population, this election season has generated great fear and instability, as the campaign season was riddled with anti-Muslim sentiment from both parties.

Far from being a liability, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was met with great enthusiasm from his supporters and only increased his popularity. In such an environment, calls to build a wall, ban over 1 billion individuals from the country, and create a Muslim registry affecting 3.3 million Americans, are viewed as legitimate policy prescriptions.

The upsurge in attacks against Muslims in the United States is not a coincidence. Given the openly anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Trump campaign, racists have only felt their views legitimized following his election. Trump’s nomination of some of the most anti-Muslim figures in the country further promotes Islamophobia and incites violence against Muslims.

Consider just a few of the dangerous individuals who will hold influence and power in the next administration.

Trump’s National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn believes that “fear of Muslims is rational” and has gone on to proudly declare that Islam is a “vicious cancer” that “has to be excised.” Calls for ethnic cleansing are evidently met with appointments to cabinet positions under the Trump administration.

Flynn also sits on the board of the largest anti-Muslim group in the country, ACT for America. Its president, Brigitte Gabriel, has previously declared that a practicing Muslim cannot be a loyal citizen of America. Gabriel’s extremist views and comments have been compared to the likes of Goebbels Reich as they provide the ideological groundwork to support the bombing and killing of millions. Flynn has also received praise from former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke, who believes that with Flynn’s appointment, Americans were on their way to take back the government.

Flynn’s association with radical groups like ACT for America and his endorsement of extremist and violent views against Muslims foreshadow what may be to come.

Trump’s nomination for the Central Intelligence Agency’s director Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo echoes many of Flynn’s views. Pompeo maintains that the War on Terror is simply a war between Muslims and Christians. In 2015, he told the congregation of an evangelical church to remain steadfast in their hatred of Muslims and not be deterred by those who may call them “Islamophobes or bigots.”

Pompeo’s targeting of the Islamic Society of Wichita (ISW) exemplifies his repeated harassment of Muslims. On March 24, 2016, he released a statement calling on ISW to cancel a fundraising event while slandering the organization with evidence-free allegations of ties with Hamas. The timing of the event was “horrible judgment,” he went on to state, because it coincided with Good Friday.

The Kansas representative is also connected to anti-Muslim campaigner Frank Gaffney Jr., part of Trump’s transition team and responsible for promoting Islamophobic beliefs through his organization, the Center for Security Policy. Pompeo maintains that Muslim leaders have not condemned attacks carried out by Muslim perpetrators and therefore are “potentially complicit.”

He also defends due process violations, torture, and being held for decades without charge or trial as “lawful and humane” and support Trump’s desire to keep Guantanamo Bay open and “fill it up with some bad dudes.” Pompeo denounced the 2009 decision to close black site prisons, notorious for widespread torture and functioning outside the international legal framework. For our next CIA director, laws and rules mean nothing if they do not support his extremist plans.

The Apprentice star’s pick for his Chief Strategist was a pleasant surprise for the American Nazi Party. On November 13, the President-elect chose well-known white supremacist and anti-Semite, Steve Bannon as his Chief White House Strategist. Bannon is most notable for his position as the former executive chair of Breitbart News, the white nationalist and racist online publication that has been credited for spreading fake news and providing a platform to extremists.

Bannon, a man who cites Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl as a model, has reiterated the common right wing stance that “Islam is a political ideology.” He has a history of supporting anti-Muslim speakers such as Pamela Geller, calling her “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam.

Bannon holds deeply troubling views about the supposed genetic superiority of certain people and has not been shy about wanting to return the colonial period when only property owners were allowed to vote. His comments follow a string of age-old racist tropes used by countless white supremacists to justify their violent agendas. Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart writer, has stated of his former boss as being “legitimately one of the worst people I’ve ever dealt with, he regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent.” It is not difficult to imagine what advise Bannon will offer Trump.

Not only did Trump recycle Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan but also selected Reagan administration veteran, Frank Gaffney Jr., to be brought onto his transition team. Gaffney’s dealings in American politics go back decades, as does his penchant for ludicrous conspiracy theories. He is part of a vast Islamophobia network, a group of individuals which include Gellar and David Horowitz, who have all established organizations and think tanks to promote and finance “anti-Muslim voices and radical ideologies.”

Gaffney is hell-bent on proving that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the American government. He also maintains that a number of American political figures are tied to the group, including Hillary Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin. His organization, the Center for Security Policy, is known for promoting literature claiming that America is under threat from “Islamization.”

Gaffney’s think tank, considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is regularly cited by a number of American politicians, proving his influence in American politics is not a recent development. He has argued against freedom of religion, as he is opposed to the building of mosques in the country. Gaffney has also lead campaigns against local mosques, arguing that their goal “is to destroy western civilization from within.” The SPLC has described him as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes,” and he has been a main driver of the birther movement alleging that President Obama was not born in America and is a “secret Muslim.”

The list of racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and overall extremist members of Trump’s administration and advisory team can go on. It also includes Trump’s foreign policy advisor, Walid Phares, the alleged ‘war criminal,’ and former ‘militia ideologue’ who has ties to Lebanon’s brutal “Christian maronite militias responsible for carrying out horrific massacres during the country’s civil war.” Trump chose the architect of the original Muslim registry, the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), to advise him on immigration. Representative Kris Kobach still considers reinstating such a registry a priority for his “strategic plan” for the Department of Homeland Security. And then there’s Katharine Gorka, a writer for Breitbart News, who has been selected to serve on Trump’s Department of Homeland Security landing team. Gorka is a supporter of Nazi-era policies, believing religious profiling of Muslims is “common sense.”

These are profiles of just some of the people who will be advising an individual cheered on by white supremacists. Each reiterates the same orientalist and racist narrative used to support ongoing wars responsible for killing millions around the world. The future for people of color, Muslims, and minority groups in this country is grim. Trump remains unpredictable but what is certain is that civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights are in grave danger as his administration tries to Make America Great Again.

Mobashra Tazamal is a human rights activist and holds an MA in Islamic Societies & Cultures from SOAS, University of London.