White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017. SHAWN THEW / EPA

The White House’s response to Islamophobia is familiar, but wrong

In October, during the second presidential debate, a young woman posed a good question to the candidates: “There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and I’m one of them. You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?”

Donald Trump was the first to respond, and he offered a memorable answer. The Republican said, “Well, you’re right about Islamophobia, and that’s a shame, but…” Trump proceeded to talk at great length about his perceptions about security threats posed by Muslims, his concerns that Muslims don’t report potential violence in advance, and his outrage that President Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t throw around the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”

In other words, an American expressed concerns about Islamophobia, and Trump responded by effectively endorsing Islamophobia.

With this in mind White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked yesterday about a recent report showing that the number of organized anti-Muslim groups in the United States tripled last year. In response to pressure, the president eventually spoke out against anti-Semitism, but will Trump be forceful about addressing Islamophobia? Spicer responded:
“I think that the president, in terms of his desire to combat radical Islamic terrorism, he understands that people who want to express a peaceful position have every right in our Constitution. But if you come here or want to express views that seek to do our country or our people harm, he is going to fight it aggressively, whether it’s domestic acts that are going on here or attempts through people abroad to come into this country.

“So there’s a big difference between preventing attacks and making sure that we keep this country safe so that there is no loss of life in allowing people to express themselves in accordance with our First Amendment. Those are two very, very different, different, different things.”
It’s as if he didn’t understand the question. Asked about anti-Muslim hate groups, the White House press secretary immediately spoke about Trump’s “desire to combat radical Islamic terrorism.”

At the same briefing, Spicer went on to say that Trump is “going to be a president that brings people together.” He added, “[Trump] is someone who seeks to unite this country…. I think that he’s been very clear previous to this that he wants to be someone that brings this country together.”

No one asked the follow-up question that came to my mind: “Have you ever actually met Donald Trump?”