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Horowitz: Trump Once Again Sends Wrong Message to American Muslim Community

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Rob Horowitz

Breaking a nearly 20 year annual tradition, President Trump failed to host an iftar dinner, marking the end of Ramadan. While he did release a perfectly fine statement, given Trump’s pattern of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals as a candidate and the perceptions of his proposed travel restrictions as President as a backdoor way to institute at least a partial Muslim Ban, forgoing this dinner sends the wrong message once again to our fellow Muslim Americans and to the more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. 

Initiated by President Clinton, these dinners were hosted annually by Presidents Bush and Obama as well. Attendees included prominent members of the American Muslim community, diplomats from Muslim nations and members of Congress, among others.

This was an opportunity for President Trump to reach out to the American Muslim community and begin to repair the damage he has done by stating and restating flat out falsehoods such as tha he watched on television as thousands of Muslims in nearby Jersey City celebrated on 9/11—something that even active Trump supporters such as Governor Christie and Mayor Giuliani, two people in a position to know, said never happened.

Hosting the dinner would have not only been the decent and inclusive thing to do, finally sending a message that the President views Muslims as an integral part of the American fabric and not as other and alien; it was also important to combating terrorism on the home-front.  One of the main reasons we have experienced less terrorism here than in Western Europe is because American Muslims are well integrated into the broader American community, serving in the military, enhancing our nation through many positive contributions and individually realizing the American Dream of upward mobility for their children. They are our first line of defense against terrorism, often actively cooperating with police to prevent violent actions before they occur. Continuing to alienate them as Trump is doing is risky and makes us all less safe.

Right after 9/11, during much more difficult circumstances than President Trump has faced, President Bush recognized the importance of reassuring the American Muslim community and of setting a leadership example for the rest of the nation about fundamental American values. While the nation was still reeling from the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and the feeling that each new day could bring another terrorist attack, Bush made a special visit to the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. to make it clear that our fight was not with Islam itself nor was it with Muslim-Americans who were as patriotic and appalled by the senseless carnage as the rest of us.

President Bush exclaimed “these acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

And Bush spoke out strongly about the importance of not lashing out against our fellow Muslim citizens and treating them with the respect they deserve: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.  And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value."

Instead of continuing in this honorable American tradition, President Trump chose once again to send a signal to his alt-right supporters. For those of us who held out some hope that his speech to leaders of 55 Muslim countries during his trip to the Middle East was the beginning of a new tone, his decision to forego the Ramadan dinner says we were mistaken and it is the same old politics of division. If he can’t even do the easy things like host a dinner, it is difficult to envision him taking the harder steps of affirmative outreach and reconciliation. Next year, I hope former Presidents Bush, Obama and Clinton step into the void and host a bi-partisan dinner marking the occasion.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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