Donald Trump, the man who declared “Islam hates us” and wanted a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims coming into America, now wants to have us, Muslims over for dinner. How mighty Trump of him. Although knowing Trump, he’ll probably serve pork chops wrapped in bacon covered in a whiskey butter sauce.
In any event, Trump announced over the weekend he was having his first ever Ramadan Iftar at the White House this Wednesday. Iftar, the dinner held at sundown during Ramadan to break the all-day fast, had been become an annual tradition in the White House since the Clinton administration. Trump, however, abruptly ended that practice last year with no explanation-other than the obvious that it plays well with his base considering 65 percent of GOP primary voters supported a total Muslim ban.
I’ve been a very vocal critic of all things Trump. But if he invited me to this Iftar, I would attend. (I was one of the 14 Muslim American leaders invited to the Obama White House for a 2015 meeting.) However, before I would step into the Trump White House, Trump would have agree to one simple condition in advance: He first needs to make a very public apology directed to each and every group he has demonized or discriminated against. In fact, that would be the perfect precursor to the White House Iftar since the holy month of Ramadan is all about spiritual growth.
Trump can start by telling the nation he’s sincerely sorry for publicly ridiculing a disabled reporter during the campaign. After that, Trump can show his spiritual growth by apologizing to the women of America for trying to undermine the #MeToo movement. Trump has done this numerous times, standing with the men accused of sexual misconduct and abuse, including his BFF Bill O’Reilly and his former aide Rob Porter after his two ex-wives had reported they were beaten by him.
Trump also needs to offer a huge apology to the African American community for his efforts to silence NFL players trying to bring attention to the institutional racism in our criminal justice system. Trump’s disinviting of the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles to the White House on Monday is part of his efforts to silence these black athletes. Add to that, Trump should apologize for his racist birther campaign against President Obama.
Then there’s Mexicans, together with immigrants in general, who Trump has made a sport of mocking and lying about. They deserve a sincere mea culpa from Trump.
Trump also needs to apologize (as well as rescind policies) directed at discriminating against the LGBT community. For example, Trump has imposed a ban on transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military, his administration has submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Civil Rights Act should not protect the LGBT community and he rejected an Obama era proposed regulation that would have recognized same sex couples have “equal rights in certain Medicare and Medicaid-participating facilities.”
And, of course, Trump should apologize to the Muslim American community for ginning up fears of Muslims with lies like “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered 9/11 and his 2016 claim that as Muslims we know “the people that are bombing the planes” but we intentionally not turning them in.
Without such apologies, if I or any Muslim attended Wednesday’s Iftar, it would be normalizing Trump’s bigotry and sexism. We would also be turning our back on other minority communities who have stood with us and that we need to continue stand with against Trump’s bigoted policies and hate.
And keep in mind, there were a fair number of Muslim American leaders who boycotted President Obama’s Iftar in 2014 to protest his policies such as the NSA’s then surveillance of the Muslim American community. Now personally I oppose boycotts if I think that meeting with the person in power could result in changing policy for the better. In fact, despite some calling for a boycott, I was one of the 14 Muslim Americans who met with President Obama in 2015 for an hour-long meeting in the White House to express our community’s concerns.
That meeting did yield some visible results, such as Obama making his first ever visit to an American mosque in 2016. By the way, what did Trump say in response to Obama’s mosque visit? He furthered the right wing lie that Obama was a Muslim (which to the right equals “un-American”) by stating, “Maybe he [Obama] feels comfortable there… There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.”
But Trump’s attacks on Muslims go far beyond words. Trump has turned his anti-Muslim animus into policy with his attempts to impose his Muslims ban, the genesis of which was his call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims. And maybe worse, Trump has reduced the number of Muslim refugees allowed to enter the United State by 90 percent in fiscal year 2018. By doing so, no doubt there are some Muslim refugees now dead who would be alive today if Trump had not rejected their desperate plea to make a new life in America.
So why is Trump really having this Iftar? We know everything Trump does is designed for one purpose: to help himself—either politically or financially. That’s why meeting with Trump is meaningless. He can promise positive policy changes to people’s face and in front of media like he did after the Parkland high school shooting, but as usual, he did nothing.
In this case, the real reason for the Iftar likely has nothing to do with the American Muslim community. Rather it’s Trump’s way to show Sunni leaders in countries he needs as allies in his fight against Iran (like Saudi Arabia) that he actually cares about Muslims. Don’t be surprised if there are no Shia American Muslim leaders at the Iftar. (Iran is approximately 95% Shia.)
In all honesty, I’d prefer Trump agree to my condition. But we know that will never happen. I’m just hoping that other American Muslims don’t allow Trump to use them as props for his political ambitions while normalizing his bigotry and sexism.