Donald Trump’s iftar (Ramadan fast-breaking dinner) for Muslim ambassadors at the White House last week was as phoney as a “degree” from Trump University.
The president’s words praising Ramadan as a celebration of “peace, clarity, and love” are patently cheap, when he continues to heap violence, misery, and hatred on Muslims around the world. The only function of a fig-leaf so small is to highlight the enormity of the sins it leaves brazenly exposed.
Over the course of his leadership campaign, Trump proclaimed that “Islam hates us,” promised to impose a “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States” (the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the legality of a modified version of the Muslim ban currently in place), and suggested that all Muslims in the U.S. should be required to register in a database — a proposal reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
Now in power, his government has doubled the rate of “counterterrorism” airstrikes in Africa and the Middle East, resulting in a doubling of civilian casualties. It has inflicted indiscriminate death, injury, and destruction — likely constituting war crimes — during what U.S. officials unabashedly described as a “war of annihilation” in Raqqa, Syria. And it is enabling Saudi Arabia’s perpetuation of what the UN has called “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time” in Yemen, with the largest arms deal in American history.
As New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice observes, “Trump has created the most Islamophobic administration our country has seen.”
To consider just a few of its members —— Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser, John Bolton, was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, “an organization known for spreading anti-Muslim conspiracies,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
His secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has opined that “the threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way.”
The National Security Council’s chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, was senior vice president of the Centre for Security Policy, characterized by the SPLC as a “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement.”
And housing secretary Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.”
Trump’s iftar rips the façade off the hypocrisy inherent in the long tradition of political leaders breaking fast with Muslims, while refusing to break with Islamophobic policies.
Barack Obama held Ramadan dinners at the White House every year of his presidency — while simultaneously increasing drone warfare, intensifying collective surveillance of Muslim communities, and insulating abusive state practices from judicial scrutiny.
In 2014, Obama used the annual iftar as an opportunity to lecture Muslims about Israel’s “right to defend itself” — at the very same time as hundreds of defenceless Palestinian civilians were being slaughtered in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, with the assistance of billions of dollars worth of American military equipment.
In Canada, the inaugural iftar at 24 Sussex Drive was hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — Canada’s “Trump” — before-Trump in shamelessly stoking anti-Muslim sentiment for political gain.
Harper inflated the threat of “Islamicism” to push through draconian national security legislation; fixated on Muslims’ supposed “barbaric cultural practices” against women to distract from his systematic debilitation of women’s rights organizations; and viciously denigrated an innocent Muslim man, Abousfian Abdelrazik, as a “terrorist” to rationalize Canada’s illegal complicity in his overseas torture and incarceration.
Justin Trudeau has perpetuated significant elements of Harper’s legacy — drastically expandingstate counterterrorism powers without adequate accountability; disproportionately targeting Muslims in the name of national security (even though right-wing extremists have been responsible for many times more acts of violence) — while also participating in Ramadan dinners and other high-profile performances of engagement with Muslim communities.
The superficiality of these iftar spectacles shows the fallacy in the popular aphorism: “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
In fact, as illustrated by the British tales of another infelicitous dinner — in which Crusader King Richard the Lionheart invited Muslim leader Saladin’s ambassadors to a feast, only to serve them the decapitated heads of their fellow Muslim princes for appetizers — it is perfectly possible to be both at the table and on the menu at the same time.
Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst.