Hate-mongering carnival barkers of every stripe share one basic characteristic – they emphasize the positive elements of an “in-group” and demonize a carefully selected “out-group,” which serves as the go-to scapegoat for almost any societal, moral, or political problem.
Be they Islamist preachers like Mufti Menk, Zakir Naik, Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, or even the so-called moderate Yasir Qadhi who nonetheless shares some of the extreme views of the former three, albeit with a veneer of “moderation,” or far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen (and her father before her), Geert Wilders, or Donald Trump, these individuals must be denounced for the flimsy narrative and false options they offer to fearful masses.
Islamist hate-mongers yell that the reason the ummah is in such bad shape today is because of the Jews (or the Zionists), or the Gays (or the Gay International in Joseph Massad’s pseudo-intellectual lingo), or any number of individuals or groups that can be assimilated into an overarching notion of the West (and its influences).
Far-right politicians (and none have been quite as explicit as Donald Trump) yell that the reason why the West is in such bad shape today is because of the Mexicans, the Muslims, multiculturalism, etc. And while Donald Trump might not have personally suggested that the Jews are behind some of the problems in the United States and the West, plenty of his supporters have done just that, with notable examples including Ann Coulter and former “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke.
Both groups of people – Islamist preachers and far-right politicians – are dangerous because they put forward an ethnocentric, ultranationalist vision that excludes and demonizes select minorities that serve as scapegoats.
Being able to designate a group of people as the reason why things are bad in a given country at a given time has a relieving effect. A problem or a crisis without a face or a name is always more terrifying than one with a clear reason and culprit.
History informs us, however, of the very deadly and horrific consequences of the political and mediatic manipulation of this brand of ultranationalist, hate-mongering exclusionary thinking.
After the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people at a gay club, I wrote that the Orlando killer was formed in the normalized and rampant homophobia of most Muslim communities. When Muslim communities hear public voices speaking in their name and declaring, like Farrokh Sekaleshfar, that “death is the sentence for homosexual acts,” they must strongly denounce it.
Unfortunately, more often that not, the minority of Muslims who do combat this hatred, such as Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed and Hassen Chalghoumi, find themselves attacked in turn by the mainstream. With the normalization and banalization of hatred of an entire group of people (i.e. LGBT people), who is surprised when someone, having internalized that hate, proceeds to put the words of others into action?
Words have power. And that is why it is not just the Orlando terrorist who must be condemned, but also those around him, like Farrokh Sekaleshfar, Mufti Menk, Zakir Naik, Yasir Qadhi, and countless other preachers, as well as ordinary Muslims, such as the Orlando terrorist’s own father, who accept the hate-filled message of these preachers.
Similarly, Donald Trump’s incitement and hate-mongering must be condemned in the strongest terms by everyone, and especially members of his own political party. The danger with Trump is that by running for president and securing the considerable support that he currently has, his dangerous rhetoric is validated and accorded a place, which it does not deserve, in the public sphere. The place his hate currently occupies must be ceaselessly challenged, in the same way that the hate of Islamist preachers must be ceaselessly challenged.
Most recently, Donald Trump suggested that gun owners might seek to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she win the election. Though he and his supporters might attempt to pass his remarks off as a joke, it is no joke to suggest murder as recourse to disgruntled voters. But Trump has a history of violent rhetoric.
It only takes one person to go from words to action after hearing Trump validating his or her own beliefs about the dangers of Hillary Clinton, Muslims, Mexicans, or any other group that can serve as scapegoat.
The most worrying thing about this election is the amount of support that Trump has been able to gather. The sheer number of Americans who find nothing wrong with Trump’s dangerous message is even more troubling than the man himself.
This is a clear parallel to the situation of extremist ideologies in Muslim communities. For the same reason that we must denounce the propagators of extremist Islamist ideologies, we must denounce the propagators of the dangerous, hateful, divisive ideologies of the far-right.