Robert Azzi: President Trump’s ‘best words’ aren’t good enough

  • A group of women take part in afternoon prayers led by Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center Executive Director Mohamed Omar outside the police tape surrounding the center on Aug. 5 in Bloomington, Minn. AP

For the Monitor
Sunday, August 13, 2017

This weekend will gather, as the Anti-Defamation League wrote, perhaps “the largest public gathering of white supremacists in at least a decade.”

On Saturday, Aug. 12, white nationalists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, garden-variety racists, skinheads, neo-Confederates, pretend-Patriots and Proud Boys, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members will join with other alt-right and anti-immigration groups in Charlottesville, Virginia under an “Unite the Right” banner. (This column was written on Friday.)

“This is the biggest rally event we’ve had this millennium,” Brad Griffin said on a recent radio show hosted by former KKK leader David Duke.

That is their right. They are free to assemble and preach – as long as they don’t incite violence – and I, as much as I despise them, support their right to flaunt their racism and ignorance in public – as long as they don’t incite violence.

I agree that they are constitutionally free to hate me.

This weekend, too, worshippers and friends of the Bloomington Islamic center in Minnesota will continue the painful task of healing, of cleaning up and repairing damage from an IED (improvised explosive device), which detonated during the dawn (fajr) prayer Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Dar Al Farooq Center mosque.

The mosque where they, too, are constitutionally free to gather, worship and celebrate their faith in God – a mosque where they are protected by same rights afforded to the haters gathering in Charlottesville.

We are equally protected by the First Amendment – one side doesn’t get more rights than another – all peoples are expected to be equally protected.

One side isn’t less American than another.

America is designed to ensure, as Theophilus Parsons, one of the authors of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution wrote, “the most ample of liberty of conscience” for “Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians.”

That’s who we’re meant to be.

Yet, in spite of those sentiments and protections, Charlottesville and Bloomington are connected in a manner that should frighten all Americans.

They’re connected by their relationship to President Donald Trump, a man who came to power in part by demonizing one side (minorities and communities of color, including Muslims) and embracing – by not opposing – the other side.

Today, seemingly invigorated by the little blue pills of Trump’s dog-whistling presidency, the alt-right world of Civil War revisionism, white and Christian supremacy, and garden-variety bigots, feels emboldened to wage their war of intolerance against the Promise of America.

As I write, the Trump White House and the Justice Department have not said a word about the pending racial drama and conflict just down the road in Charlottesville.

They have not even said, “While we disagree with their sentiments we support their right to assemble.”

Today, as I write, my president has still not condemned the Bloomington bombing.

“We came to this country for the same reason everyone else came here – freedom to worship,” Dar Al Farooq member Yasir Abdalrahman told the local Star Tribune. “And that freedom is under threat. Every other American should be insulted by this.”

“Every other American” seemingly does not include the president of the United States.

Rather, he insults me.

When two men were stabbed to death after trying to stop a man from harassing two women with Islamophobic speech – one of them wearing a hijab – he was silent.

My president was silent.

When, during Ramadan, a Muslim teenager, Nabra Hassanen, was bludgeoned to death by an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States illegally – he was silent.

My president was silent.

Remember all those crimes of violence by “illegal aliens” he decried during his campaign? Today, though, as we mourn Nabra, he is silent still.

We should all be insulted.

In the first three months of 2017, four American mosques were torched – all ruled as arson. It’s not just that such attacks seem in be occurring with frightening regularity – it is that they are happening too often with too little notice.

The ACLU have posted an interactive 50-state map where you can track attacks on American mosques.

There you can read about an attack on a mosque in Nashua that was barely reported in the Granite State, about Lewiston, Maine, where someone rolled a pig’s head into a mosque’s prayer room while some men were praying. About Davis, Calif., where a woman was filmed breaking windows and leaving strips of raw bacon, and about Sacramento where a burned Quran filled with bacon was handcuffed to a fence around the mosque.

There is, amazingly, a reluctance to call such actions - when directed toward Muslims, terrorism.

When violent acts are perpetrated by Muslims it is always, and immediately, called terrorism – mitigating factors are rarely considered.

When violent acts are perpetrated by non-Muslims they are rarely, and never immediately, called terrorism – mitigating factors are always considered.

Witness the coverage of Bloomington.

After the bombing, not many called it “terrorism.” After Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called the bombing an “act of terrorism,” media reports reported “Minnesota Governor Dayton calls bombing terrorism” not simply “Bloomington Mosque bombing an act of terrorism.”

The media needed cover – cover they never wait for if a church or synagogue is bombed or defaced.

When such attacks aren’t immediately condemned, terrorists are emboldened. When the leader of a free nation is silent, when Islamophobes and anti-Semites like Rev. Robert Jeffress, Sebastian Gorka, Richard Spencer and Pamela Geller are embraced, then hate happens.

When the president of a free nation doesn’t speak for all the people, he aligns America with autocrats like Putin, Erdogan, Orbán and Duterte.

When the president doesn’t speak for all people, he fails them all.

In response to the Bloomington bombing, Rabbi Marc Schneier offered: “We must stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters and forcefully push back if steps are taken that violate their constitutionally protected rights as American citizens. . . . At this moment of testing, let all of us take a deep breath and agree to live up to the core beliefs in compassion and human dignity that undergird our respective faiths as well as American democracy.”

Last week, after the Dar Al Farooq Mosque was bombed, the leaders of the local Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities stood together in solidarity.

“What I would say is an attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue, it’s an attack on a church, it’s an attack on all faith communities,” said the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung.

“So we stand with you.”

It’s time for President Trump to stand as well. To condemn all violence, to condemn terrorism against all Americans, to condemn all hate speech regardless of source.

There’s only one America, one Constitution.

In 2015, during a campaign rally, Trump said, “I know words – I have the best words.”

His “best words” have fallen short.

His silence speaks volumes.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com and his columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)