Shooting the messenger, ignoring the message


It’s been a week now since Donald Trump retweeted three tweets by a British nationalist leader Jayda Fransen and the world is still in the meltdown. Trump’s visit to the UK has been cancelled, following a condemnation across the British political spectrum of Trump’s seemingly tacit approval of Britain First’s anti-Islam and anti-immigration agenda. Even our very own Q&A last night was in the uproar over Trump’s retweets:

This is the heartbreaking moment a young Australian Muslim woman broke down in tears over Donald Trump’s retweeting of a British hate group.

In an emotionally-charged night on the ABC’s Q&A show, where the debate was centred on the issue of free speech, Zara Bilal questioned what could be done about the US President’s constant spreading of racist ideology.

The response of the panellists — and her emotional reaction to the debate — earned the young woman praise on Twitter and left Simon Breheny with egg on his face.

The debate was kickstarted when Zara shared her personal feelings about Trump’s retweeting of the hate-filled, right-wing group Britain First.

“Being a young Muslim female Australian, I have been on the receiving end of many hurtful discriminatory comments,” Zara told the ABC panel. “This hate was perpetuated by US President Donald Trump who retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda.

“With a 78 per cent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the US in 2017, what do you believe is an appropriate response as individuals and as government organisations to the President’s constant spreading of racist and Islamophobic messages?”

Then the things really heat up.

Let’s get a few things straight from the outset:

1.My hopes that Trump’s Twitter account would be taken off his hands upon entering the White House have proven naive. His Twitter output continues to be combative, petulant, and undignified. Some people love it – Trump has made trolling the left his hallmark and so far it’s been working for him quite well – most hate it; it strikes me as very un-Presidential. Sad (to borrow a Trumpism).

2. The President of the United States should not be retweeting anyone – he (or she) should be the one setting the agenda, not looking to others for support for his thoughts and actions.

3. Retweeting a Britain First leader is bad optics. BF are a fringe group, which the media loves to latch onto in order to discredit valid concerns about immigration and multiculturalism that are shared by the majorities across Western countries, and tainting these concerns by association with racism, fascism and other unsavoury (and in most cases marginal) sentiments. In retweeting BF, Trump has played into the left’s agenda to stigmatise opposing points of view as bigotry beyond any pale and to shut down the public debate on important (if not actually existential) cultural and demographic issues.

That being said, isn’t it curious (this is a rhetorical question; it’s not curious at all) that everyone for the past few days has concentrated on the fact of Trump retweeting Britain First and completely ignoring the question of the content of the tweets themselves? As James Delingpole summarises,

These retweets showed videos, purportedly of members of the Religion of Peace (TM) behaving less than peacefully.

One depicted a bearded Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary.

One showed an Islamist mob pushing a teenage boy off a roof and then beating him to death.

One showed a white Dutch boy on crutches being gratuitously beaten up by a man described in the video caption as a “Muslim migrant”.

As Delingpole writes, the first two of the videos indeed show what they appear to show, and we know the back stories behind them; in the third one, according to the Dutch police, the attacker is neither Muslim nor an immigrant. This is arguably one more reason for a President of the United States not to be retweeting random videos whose provenance is questionable.

Still, Islamism remains a problem. But it’s a lot more morally uplifting to be outraged at Trump tweeting than about a 19-year old Egyptian boy murdered by an Islamist mob.

Of course “not all Muslims” are terrorists. But pretending that there are no problems – or that the only problem is Islamophobia – is a folly, and a dangerous one to that, because it handicaps Muslim moderates like Maajid Nawaz (or Australia’s own Sheikh Tawhidi) from trying to bring Islam into the 21st century and make it compatible with modernity. The left-wing Southern Poverty Law Centre, by the way, lists Nawaz, as solid a left-liberal as there come, as an anti-Muslim extremist (Nawaz is suing).

The actual terrorists are a tiny (albeit very dangerous) minority. But they enjoy a support of a larger minority, who might not pull the trigger themselves but approve of both the ends and means. In turn, there is an even larger minority which opposes the violent means but supports the end: the imposition of a caliphate under strict sharia law. Finally, there a larger still group – sometimes a minority, but often, sadly, a majority – which espouses values and beliefs at odds with the liberal, secular, democratic values shared by the developed democracies (I’ve blogged about these issues many times before, for example here, here, and here).

This is the nub of the problem, one we need to solve for all of our sakes, including the moderate Muslims around the world who likewise deserve to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of modernity.