Donald Trump is heading out to Saudi Arabia this weekend to deliver an “inspiring” speech about Islam to over 50 foreign Muslim leaders. I think I’ll pass on the speech. I’ve heard Trump’s “inspiring” words about Islam before.
Who can forget his greatest hits like “Islam hates us”? Or Trump’s lie that “thousands” of Muslim Americans cheered in New Jersey on 9/11, a remark that even Trump’s buddy Rudy Giuliani said was not accurate. And then there was Trump on Fox News during the campaign declaring that up to 34 percent of all Muslims in the world want to wage war on America, a comment crushed by fact checkers as false. (So per Trump one in three of the Muslims he meets in Saudi is a terrorist.)
And of course who can forget Trump’s most “inspiring” words—his call to ban the entire world’s Muslim population from our nation simply because of their faith. And the all time Trump was saying this, he was hypocritically doing business with countless foreign Muslims from Dubai to Indonesia.
I don’t need to watch Trump’s speech because I’ve also seen the impact of Trump’s “inspiring” words. In 2015 there was a 67 percent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. And since the election, there has been an alarming uptick in physical attacks on Muslim Americans, especially women wearing hijabs. Add to that, mosques across the country have been targeted by hate, with some being burned to the ground.
But now Trump is heading to Saudi to meet with the royal family there as well as other Muslims leaders. Funny how Trump keeps speaking of “America First” but he has now chosen to meet foreign Muslim leaders before first convening a public meeting with American Muslim leaders to apologize for demonizing our community.
And while my fury is focused on Trump, I have to ask will the foreign Muslim leaders press Trump on his history of hate he directed at Muslims in America?! If these foreign Muslim leaders truly view American Muslims as their sisters and brothers, then prove it by publicly calling out Trump’s hate instead of whitewashing it. But I doubt they will because their geopolitical interests trump concerns for American Muslims.
While my views on Trump are clear, I wondered what my fellow American Muslims thought, so I asked them via social media and email.
Interestingly the very first response on Facebook was from a younger Muslim American who wrote: “As a Muslim, I’m eager to see what he has to say,” adding that if it went well it could make him rethink the way he viewed Trump.
I was stunned. Was I so partisan that I was closing my eyes to what some of my fellow America Muslims were viewing as a sincere effort by Trump to reset relations with Muslims?
Well, while that may have been the first comment posted, it was the last time that view was voiced. The tsunami of responses that followed slammed Trump’s hypocrisy as well as the foreign Muslim leaders who are opening their arms to Trump while not calling out his demonization of American Muslims.
The most common response was summed up by Muslim American Will Coley, who ran for the Libertarian vice presidential nomination in 2016: “Trump in room full of dictators, tyrants, and authoritarians…he should feel right at home.”
Zaki Barzinji, who worked in the Obama administration, echoed that sentiment:
“The House of Trump wishes it was the House of Saud.” Trump, he added, sees the Saudi’s “nepotistic state, the quashing of women’s rights, the fomenting of xenophobic hysteria” as “an admirable blueprint.”
Many others voiced the view that was nothing more than a business trip for Trump. Tariq Hassan stated bluntly, “This is about one thing: business. This trip has nothing to with Islam.” Ahmad Zahra added, “Follow the money. Trump’s got personal business there and arms deals with Gulf nations. This has nothing to do with Islam or peace.”
That view is clearly supported by the facts. In 2015, Ivanka Trump publicly stated that the Trump organization was looking to build new hotels in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. And this week we learned that Trump is on verge of closing a massive $100 billion arms deal with the Saudis that will of course be a big boost to U.S. defense contractors and our economy.
Interestingly the criticism of the Muslim foreign leaders by American Muslims almost matched the slams of Trump. As comedian and activist Maysoon Zayid wrote, “I would hope that Muslim leaders would check his bigotry but he’s not really meeting leaders—he’s meeting men like himself interested in profit not prophets.”
Others noted the hypocrisy of Trump lecturing the Muslim world while standing on the soil of Saudi Arabia, “one of the most repressive/extremist Muslim governments.”
It’s clear that the days of American Muslims holding back on criticizing foreign Muslim leaders for illiberal ideas and oppressing their own people are long gone—and that’s a great thing.
A few experts also responded, providing more measured remarks. Shuja Nawaz, a distinguished fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, told me we would likely only hear Trump offer “clichés and generalizations.” Nawaz expected little real action after Trump’s speech, which he noted was exactly what happened after President Obama’s famous “New Beginnings” speech in Cairo in 2009. Salam Al-Marayati, head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, explained the only chance Trump has of moving beyond “empty rhetoric” is by substantively addressing the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and the tragedy in Syria.
Trump’s meeting in Saudi is not about helping Muslims, it’s about Trump. It’s always about Trump. Sure, this weekend Trump might serve up lines like how he “loves the Muslims,” has great Muslim friends, etc. But come the next time Trump thinks it will help him politically, he will demonize American Muslims. And just as bad, the foreign Muslim leaders—some democratically elected but many being dictators and monarchs—will likely still embrace him because like Trump they care less about Muslims and more about money.