Portraying Muslims as a Threat to Women, Donald Trump Echoes ‘Us vs. Them’ Refrain

Source: The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump, reiterating his call to restrict Muslim immigration to the United States, has adopted a tactic that has long been a mainstay of strongmen and sectarian provocateurs: portraying outsiders as a threat to women’s safety.

In a foreign policy speech on Monday, Mr. Trump referred to the practice known as honor killings in Pakistan and the mass sexual assault on New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne, implying that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to women in the United States.

He also cited the case of an Iraqi immigrant who murdered his daughter in 2009 in Arizona out of anger that she was “too Westernized.” “Shockingly,” Mr. Trump said, “this is a practice that has reached our own shores.”

Mr. Trump, knowingly or not, joined a long line of people who have justified harsh policies against a group by portraying its members, often in sexualized terms, as perilous to women. White supremacists justified lynching in the Jim Crow era by depicting black men as predators targeting white women, for example, and British propaganda during World War I featured lurid tales of German soldiers raping Belgian women.


A large crowd gathered for the lynching of Jesse Washington, a black man accused of raping and murdering a white woman, in 1916 in Waco, Texas. Credit Corbis
By using women to measure moral distance between “us” and “them,” such messages portray outsiders as not just different, but dangerous. History has proved this rhetoric effective — though more at rallying people behind the messenger and ostracizing the outsiders than at actually protecting women.

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Miranda Alison, a University of Warwick professor who studies women in conflict, wrote in a 2007 article that such material “presents the (male) enemy as those who would rape and murder ‘our’ women and the war effort is directed at saving ‘our’ women.”

Such messages tend to follow a script. The first step is to condemn an individual male member of a group — a group seen as outsiders by the mainstream audience — for an outrageous attack on an innocent woman or group of women. The next step is to portray the attack as evidence of the poor moral character or depraved culture inherent to the man’s social group, arguing that it therefore poses a danger to the mainstream society’s families and values. Finally, that danger is used to justify harsh, sometimes violent, action against that group.

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