A new report suggests there’s no place for the ‘other’ in Donald Trump’s ‘Great America’.
Houston: On February 1, 2017, in a Muslim-owned restaurant called Four Sisters in Chicago, Illinois, a patron left a $1 tip. On the bill – in bright red ink – were the words: “No Muslim immigrants in the USA.”
On the same day, in a separate incident in Nashville, Tennessee, a man named Christopher Beckham harassed two Muslim girls as they were alighting from a school bus, and threatened their father with a knife, asking them to “go back to your country.”
• On May 2, 2017, at the South Padre Island in Texas, a man named Alexander Downing was seen pounding his chest, screaming in the faces of a Muslim family on the beach: “Donald Trump will stop you. Donald Trump got you motherf*@#*^s. Watch, my country is the greatest country in the world.”
• On July 19, 2017, an unidentified man called a local mosque in Augusta, Georgia, at least eight times, leaving over 20 minutes of voicemail messages threatening to attack, shoot and bomb mosques and Muslims in the US.
• On September 21, 2017, a man named Matthew Dunn verbally and physically assaulted his Lyft driver in Houston, Texas, upon learning that he was a Muslim from Pakistan.
These incidents are only a handful of 302 instances of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities in the first year of Trump’s presidency. The incidents have been documented in a report titled ‘Communities on Fire’, which was released last week by the non-profit organisation South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).
The report, which covers the period from November 8, 2016 to November 7, 2017, shows a direct correlation between the surge in hate crimes against South Asians – a 45% increase from SAALT’s analysis of the previous year when Trump ran his presidential campaign peppered with odious rhetoric – and Trump’s subsequent rise to power.
One in five attackers invoked the name of Trump, or one of his harmful policies, or even his pet slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.
The report organises incidents of hate violence into three major categories: physical assaults (beatings, violent removal of religious clothing and the use of a weapon); verbal or written assaults (threats based on racial and religious appearance) and property damage (vandalism, arson and other forms of destruction).
When the 302 recorded incidents are broken down further, we see that 213 of them were the product of direct physical or verbal hate violence and 89 instances fell under the realm of xenophobic political rhetoric. Eighty two percent were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Through its policies and rhetoric, the Trump administration’s incessant demonisation of Islam has created an environment of hate and fear-mongering for Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. Deadly shootings, torched mosques, vandalised homes and businesses and young people harassed at school have animated an acutely violent post-election year. This administration must break eye contact with white supremacy if our nation is to live up to its highest ideals of religious freedom,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT.
The report underscores the fact that anti-Muslim discrimination in the US has long been a part of the history of oppression perpetrated against Black, Native and Latinx communities, even as the campaign and election of Trump is heralded as the primary factor associated with the growing violence and rhetoric nationally. Post 9/11, Islamophobic vitriol has trickled down to people who are presumed to be Muslim, affecting the South Asian community at large.
“The heightened hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric targeting our communities, accompanied by an increase in surveillance and racial profiling by law enforcement in 2017, points to a new normal of fear and violence,” reads the report, adding that the openly discriminatory government policies and practices enhance and underscore this impact.
The most pronounced case was the killing of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla, which later came to be referred to as the 2017 Olathe, Kansas shooting. Trump remained silent for six days before condemning the killing.
The harmful effects of the Trump administration highlighted in this report, however, doesn’t seem to have detered a small group of about 200 Hindu Indian immigrants. On Saturday, the Hindu Republican Coalition held a rally outside the White House in support of his latest plan for “merit-based” immigration. Demonstrators marched while chanting slogans like “Indians love Trump” and “Clear green card backlog.”
SAALT prepared this report by poring over coverage of hate crimes in local press. They also created a database on the website which allows people to fill a form detailing the kind of abuse suffered. “This allows for people of the community to report their cases without fear. There is a growing distrust in law enforcement, so this form helps people to not suffer in silence. We also provide legal resources,” Raghunathan said.
The instigators and perpetrators of hate documented in the report are white supremacist groups, President Trump himself and his administration officials, other elected or public officials and the mainstream media. According to the report, hate violence seems to occur more frequently in states with a high South Asian population like California and New York, followed by Illinois, Ohio, Texas and Washington.
The recent report also points to the intersectionality of the violence, putting at highest risk, say Black queer Muslim women.
Consequently, the highest number of hate incidents were against women (28%), followed by men, youth and Muslim places of worship. Those wearing hijabs or headscarves were most vulnerable, accounting for 63% of the hate crimes against women.
In May last year, a middle-aged white man followed a Black Muslim couple for 20 blocks in Portland, Oregon and yelled out threats at them. “Take off the f*&$ing burka, this is America; go back to your f*&$ing country.” He also made a gesture of pulling a trigger, while also threatening to mow them over with his car. The man later said he felt threatened by the couple, a common excuse used by those who attack Black people in the US.
“Hate violence often occurs at the intersection of anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, anti-women, anti-Black, homophobic and transphobic, classist and casteist systems,” the report reads. In response to these complexities, it is often Muslim, Dalit, Black, queer and immigrant women who are leading efforts to fight the onslaught of hate.”
Sukhada Tatke is a freelance writer. She tweets @ASuitableGirl.