During the much anticipated presidential debate Sunday evening, Republican nominee Donald Trump was finally asked by a Muslim American how he, as president, would respond to the rise of Islamophobia. It was a unique and powerful opportunity for the businessman to address the shockingly anti-Islam tenor of his campaign, which many hate-group experts say has precipitated an unprecedented spike in Islamophobic violence across the United States.
Instead, Trump responded with an answer that was not only blatantly Islamophobic, but also outright fallacious. In fact, his reply was so filled with anti-Islam sentiment that it’s worth breaking down into individual parts.
The exchange was initiated when Gorbah Hamed, an uncommitted Missouri voter and a Muslim American, asked how Trump would “help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over.”
“Well, you’re right about Islamophobia—it’s a shame,” he began, seemingly unaware that his own candidacy is often specifically credited by hate-group experts as a driving force behind the recent uptick in anti-Islam sentiment. In fact, at least one such incident involved a report of a woman verbally and physically assaulting a Muslim woman in Washington, D.C. before justifying the attack by citing her support for Donald Trump.
But Trump wasn’t done.
“But…whether we like it or not there is a problem,” he continued. “We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.”
Trump has made this claim before. In the aftermath of the tragic Orlando massacre earlier this year, Trump said, “For some reason, the Muslim community does not report people like this.”
This accusation, both then and now, is patently false. Muslims in the Untied States do report when they see evidence of extremism, so much so that law enforcement often relies on them for tips. FBI director James Comey even said as much back in June while discussing the Orlando shootings.
[Muslim Americans] do not want people committing violence, either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim,” he said. “It’s at the heart of the FBI’s effectiveness to have good relationships with these folks.”
Trump’s inaccurate assertion struck a chord with the Muslim American community, many of whom immediately took to Twitter to mock his statement using the hashtag #MuslimsReportStuff.
Yet Trump had more to say. To drive home his point about Muslims reporting violence, he claimed that “many people” saw weapons in the home of the San Bernardino shooters, implying that Muslims who knew the ISIS-linked terrorists simply did not tell police about their dark plans.
But as Richard Winton, a Pulitzer-prize winning Los Angeles Times journalist who covered the shootings, pointed out, that claim is also completely unsubstantiated.
And just in case you missed his point, Trump closed with an anti-Muslim argument that members of his own party have been using for years now: that president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “have to” use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to ever fully combat terrorism perpetrated by those who claim to be followers of Islam.
“To solve a problem, you have to be able to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name,” he said. “[Hillary Clinton] won’t say the name, and president Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there: it’s radical Islamic terror, and before you solve it, you have to say the name.”
This argument has been dismissed by security experts for some time, many of whom say that such terms only make fighting terrorism harder. Or, as Michael German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former undercover FBI agent, said when asked about the term during a congressional hearing in June, that kind of language “puts us on a path to perpetual war.”
“[Such language] only serves to stoke public fear, xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry,” he said.
Ultimately, Trump didn’t have to spout explicitly anti-Muslim bigotry to be Islamophobic. Rather, his responses were in and of themselves Islamophobic because they were based on falsehoods that perpetuate a very specific, and unabashed inaccurate, narrative: that Muslims are generally dangerous, and those that aren’t are failing to help their fellow Americans.
Hamed herself was deeply unimpressed with Trump’s response.
“[Trump’s response] wasn’t an answer, actually, it was kind of like an accusation,” she told The Huffington Post.
Trump’s remarks were, in effect, a very honest “answer” to her question: if elected president, Trump, assuming he continues to voice the kinds of arguments he repeated last night, will “deal” with the rise of Islamophobia the same way he has throughout his campaign—by making it worse.