Metro Detroit Muslim leaders and activists, roiled by President Trump’s retweets of anti-Muslim videos, rebuked him Wednesday, calling the tweets nativist, exploitative and an “international assault.”
“Yes, it’s just a tweet, 280 characters, (but) the impact of these tweets and rhetoric is felt on the ground in Dearborn, in Michigan, where the largest concentration of Muslim- and Arab-Americans has been made to live in full fear,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, director of ACCESS’ National Network for Arab American Communities in Dearborn.
Trump did not offer any explanation for why he retweeted the inflammatory videos on Wednesday posted by a far-right group that purport to show a “Muslim migrant” assaulting a Dutch boy, an “Islamist mob” pushing a teen off a roof and a Muslim man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later defended his early morning posts, saying he wants to “promote strong borders and strong national security.”
Others in Metro Detroit said they had an explanation.
“This administration has a track record of exploiting politics of fear,” said the ACLU in a statement. “These aren’t just retweets, they are part of a calculated effort to justify discrimination against Muslims,” according to the statement. "We all have a responsibility to challenge speech and actions from our elected officials that single our community members out based solely on their religion or heritage.”
Abuznaid said if the tweets were about border protection, Trump seemed to be implying that Muslims were the “root cause to terrorism.”
“It’s absolutely not about border protection,” said Abuznaid. “They only serve one purpose — to instigate more propaganda and Islamophobia. This is a moment for us to take very seriously that the threat is coming from the White House.”
He said he wasn’t shocked when he saw the retweeted videos, but that it should be recognized as an “international assault.”
Condemnation came from many quarters. Some questioned why they don’t hear from the president when reported hate crimes involving Muslims surface. Others said they feared Trump deliberately was stoking the same anti-Muslim fears he fanned on the campaign trail.
“What may be worse than the deeply disappointing act itself is the astonishing justification given by his press secretary that this was done to start a conversation regarding border security,” said Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, reportedly the largest mosque in the United States.
Fiana Arbab, who formerly served as University of Michigan Dearborn’s student body president, now is a board member of the Michigan Student Power Network and Michigan organizer for Know Your IX, said she was fearful and angry after seeing the videos.
“First I laughed and then I immediately got angry,” said Arbab, 22, of Canton Township. “I felt overwhelmed with fear and reverted back to recent hate crimes in Kalkaska, Michigan, after the mayor posted anti-Muslim posts on Facebook and there was a hate crime.”
Abuznaid also recalled the Kalkaska mayor's viral remarks. "There has been a systemic promotion of these values and ideals all the way back to the highest office," he said. "It’s inescapable for most of us, and it’s a real threat that we have to encounter."
At least one Dearborn resident from Lebanon who voted for Trump still is standing by his side.
Nedal Tamer, 41, who owns a small real estate business in Dearborn, said that while he thinks the videos Trump retweeted spread Islamophobia, he agrees with Trump’s actions to protect the country’s borders.
“You can’t blame all Muslims” for the actions in the videos, said Tamer. “Muslims have done a lot of good for this country, and I don’t think Trump would have shared the video if he didn’t have a good reason to or a plan in mind.”
Trump’s use of anti-Muslim rhetoric isn’t new, they said. He offered similar commentary during his presidential campaign, saying he would “strongly consider” closing mosques and insisting that “Islam hates us.” As president, he has sought to ban travel from majority-Muslim countries. He said earlier this year that “we have to stop radical Islamic terrorism.”
Arbab said as president of UM-Dearborn’s student body, she had to address several incidents after Trump’s inauguration involving anti-immigrant fears.
“Two students came to my office the day after elections and said that a male student requested to see their IDs and said, ‘They should get used to it, for when Trump compiles the Muslim list,’ and another when my friend was pumping gas near campus and a man threatened to pull off her hijab,” Arbab said. “I issued emails saying this is not going to be tolerated, but it was disturbing.”
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said when theories against American minorities go unchallenged, they foster an atmosphere that causes hate crimes.
“Throughout this year, CAIR offices nationwide received, on average, at least one to two daily reports of hate crimes targeting American Muslims, Muslim houses of worship, or people perceived as Muslim,” Awad said in a news release. “As numerous Americans who are Muslim or ‘looked Muslim’ were shot or beaten severely, we did not hear a word from this president.”
Arbab, who attends the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs, a mosque in Canton Township, said the mosque has received threats that prompted the imam to modify the times the mosque would be open. Plans are to keep the building closed except during times of the five daily prayer sessions.
“That’s never happened,” she said. “It’s always open, 24/7, and now they have to amplify security.”
Arbab said a threat at Masjid Bilal, a mosque in Clinton Township, was targeted in early November. Dearborn Heights police found a suspicious bag with a list of religious targets.
“The impact (of the reweets) is exponential,” said ACCESS’ Abuznaid. “(The administration is) planting seeds here and these seeds have been sprouting for quite some time and the reality is, Islamophobia is nothing new to this country. What Donald Trump has done is add a new layer to it.”
Associated Press contributed.