Ostensibly, Trump’s comments came in response to three murders in London over the weekend. But the real rationale behind Trump’s tweets was likely far simpler. Khan, who has Pakistani heritage but is British-born, is a useful political foil for Trump because he is Muslim.
Under Trump’s 2015 campaign proposal of a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, Khan wouldn’t have been allowed to legally travel to Washington. The irony of a potential U.S. president calling for a policy that would curtail the rights of a British leader because of his religious beliefs should not be lost on anyone who has even the most cursory understanding of America’s founding story.
Trump’s supporters would argue that Trump’s latest tweets are actually about London’s murders, and that he has a genuine concern for knife crime in the British capital. Others might suggest that he is simply attacking Khan because Khan has criticized Trump. Both arguments are missing the glaring evidence otherwise.
If Trump thinks Khan should be replaced because of the London murders, then he should be calling for the mayors of most U.S. cities to be replaced, too. The London murder rate is 1.5 people out of every 100,000 residents. But data show that the murder rate is more than twice as high in New York, more than four times higher in San Francisco, more than 27 times higher in New Orleans and more than 43 times higher in St. Louis.
And sure, Khan has criticized Trump. In response, Trump made fun of Khan’s height and called him a “stone cold loser” before Air Force One landed in Britain for Trump’s recent state visit.
But Khan isn’t alone. Plenty of prominent mayors in countries that are U.S. allies have criticized Trump. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has called Trump “so stupid.” The mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, previously sponsored a bill in Canada’s parliament to ban Trump from entering the country. And Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, took a pointed stance against Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, inverting Ronald Reagan’s famous quote by saying: “Mr. President, don’t build this wall.”
Where are the Trump tweets attacking them? You guessed it. They don’t exist.
Trump’s tweets about Khan aren’t only an issue because he is singling out a Muslim man for disproportionate criticism. In his latest broadside on Khan, Trump was agreeing with and amplifying Katie Hopkins, a far-right Islamophobe who is well-known in Britain. Her original comment, which Trump amplified to his millions of followers, criticized Khan for turning the capital into “Londonistan,” a blatant racist trope. And this all comes after Trump previously retweeted Jayda Fransen, who has been convicted of hate-crime offenses in Britain and was one of the leaders of Britain First, a neo-fascist hate group.
It matters who the president of the United States chooses to amplify. Americans largely haven’t heard of Hopkins, but she is a widely reviled figure in British society, a bigoted provocateur who chases headlines with an ever-worsening series of offensive statements. Hopkins has spewed Islamophobia for years, and once wrote a column which compared migrants and refugees to “cockroaches” and called them “a plague of feral humans.” The atrocities of history are laced with such dehumanizing language, with Nazis referring to Polish nationals as “an East European species of cockroach,” and some Hutus referring to Tutsis as cockroaches during the Rwandan genocide.
Such rhetoric coincides with a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States and in Britain.
And yet, following a lavish state visit with Queen Elizabeth II, who perhaps hoped to instill a sense of statesmanship to Trump by giving him a gift invoking Winston Churchill, Trump once again failed to rise to the occasion. He debased himself — and the United States — by giving a platform to an anti-Muslim extremist while attacking the Muslim mayor of London.
Trump disproportionately relishes political attacks on prominent Muslim figures. He singled out Democratic freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for repeated attacks since she took office in January. Sajid Javid — a candidate for prime minister who is also Britain’s home secretary and the only Muslim senior cabinet minister — was not invited for Trump’s state banquet, a move even Javid described as “odd.” And Sadiq Khan isn’t even the only Khan that has earned Trump’s ire. The same was true of Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father of a U.S. soldier who criticized Trump during the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
Trump has a long history of attacking Muslims, appearing responsive to the idea of a Muslim database and calling to ban Muslims from entering the United States. With Trump’s latest attacks on Sadiq Khan, the president’s religious bigotry is now on full display for an international audience.
Brian Klaas: A short history of President Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry
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