With a Trump presidency, Jews and Muslims face whitelash

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about right-wing extremist racism in the United States, or for that matter in Canada. 

The election of Donald Trump has me worried. 

Indeed, for the first time in memory, distinguished members of both the American Jewish and Muslim communities are coming together to form what can only be seen as a defensive alliance.

The American Jewish Committee, a century-old human rights group, and the Islamic Society of North America have joined forces to establish a Muslim-Jewish Advisory Committee convened to unite “recognized business, political and religious leaders to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

The two groups, who’ve been at best quiet protagonists, have made a commitment to watch each other’s backs. Sadly, there is good reason for such a council.

Since the November 8 election, a wave of hate-motivated crimes and racist graffiti attacks (including swastikas) has spread across the United States. 

The Alabama-based anti-racist watchdog group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that some 315 racially charged incidents have come to its attention in the past week alone, the majority targeting Latinos and Muslims.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, November 13, Trump told supporters to “stop” the attacks, but as many critics have already pointed out Trump’s own campaign rhetoric has fuelled this very outpouring of hatred. Trump kicked off his campaign labelling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “killers” and called for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S., an issue on which he has yet to back down.

In the days following his election, some expressed hope that sanity might prevail once Trump realized the enormity of the job he faces. He has toned down his rhetoric perhaps he would surround himself with knowledgeable, respected people who would guide him properly through the many challenges ahead. He seemed uncharacteristically subdued during his 60 Minutes interview. 

Then we heard his first major appointment of chief strategist and senior counsellor in the White House: white nationalist Stephen Bannon, former CEO of extreme alt-right online service Breitbart News. 

Bannon’s a conspiracy aficionado who has made common cause with the fringe right-wing elements. His news services has published headlines equating feminism with cancer, and blaming birth control for making woman “unattractive and crazy.”

Breitbart has maligned even its own base by using an anti-Semitic slur to identify respected conservative pundit Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew.”

It’s no wonder. For the first time in almost 25 years, racist groups like the KKK and the American Nazi Party have embraced the president-elect. In fact, both groups have praised Trump on Bannon’s appointment. 

Rocky Suhayda, chair of the American Nazi Party, says Bannon’s appointment suggests “perhaps The Donald is for real,” presumably, about some of his seamier policies. Former KKK leader David Duke called Bannon’s hiring an “excellent” choice.

Only a few days ago, the KKK announced it will hold a victory parade in an as yet undisclosed North Carolina town to celebrate Trump’s victory. There was a tepid denunciation from Trump’s spokespeople, but Trump himself has remained ominously quiet. To be sure, Trump’s election-eve TV ad, featuring Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, Goldman Sachs head Lloyd Blankfein and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, “could have been lifted straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” noted the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, with its references to “those who control the levers of power” and “global power structure.”

Canada has not been immune to hate attacks since the Trump victory. 

While thankfully, at least for now, Canadians react viscerally toward extreme forms of racist targeting and leaders properly and quickly condemn these acts, we should not discount the potential effects of Trump’s newly invigorated legions of Islamophobes and anti-Semites. See Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s “Canadian values” campaign.

The election of Trump to the most important political office in the world is a wake-up call that we must heed. The small number of neo-Nazis who are now feeling emboldened on the continent must not be underestimated. Trump’s language and racist promises have lit a fire in the belly of bigots and racists. 

White supremacist Timothy McVeigh, the American domestic terrorist behind the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City that killed 165 innocent people, should be a constant warning to us: it doesn’t take an army to cause tragedy and havoc, especially at a time of political uncertainty when convention has been turned upside down.

Bernie M. Farber is executive director of the Mosaic Institute.

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