Tuesday morning, President Trump retweeted several outrageous (and, reports indicate, phony) Islamophobic videos from a fringe British ultranationalist group. The outburst represents a continuation of a disturbing pattern. President Trump routinely targets and vilifies Muslims. The pattern seems to intensify when the president finds himself in political danger or when he wants to fire up his base and/or change the subject.Why the president shared these abhorrent videos is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the president is nervous that the Special Counsel investigation seems to be closing in on him and his inner circle. Perhaps he sees it as an avenue to buoy his abysmal approval rating. The tweets came on the heels of his endorsement of alleged sex criminal and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and in the midst of a larger cultural reckoning over sexual abuse by prominent, powerful men. Maybe he’s trying to direct scrutiny away from the fact that he too stands accused of a similar pattern of behavior. Or maybe it was a ploy to divert the media’s attention away from the Republican tax reform plan, a measure that will redistribute the nation’s wealth from the poor to the rich. The plan is extremely unpopular, and for good moral, as well as practical, reasons. Congressional Republicans are in a hurry to pass the bill, because they know the more Americans learn about the bill, the less popular it will become. The president and his Republican majorities in Congress know they need to demonstrate a legislative win. Perhaps the president surmised that he could send inflammatory tweets to divert the media’s attention from tax reform, giving congressional Republicans cover to pass an unpopular bill with less than full scrutiny. Or, maybe the timing is entirely coincidental, and the president, animated by his demonstrated bias against Muslims, happened yesterday to see some tweets that confirmed his prejudices and, as many of us sometimes regretfully do on social media, impulsively shared them.But Twitter is a public forum, especially when the person using it is the President of the United States. And when the president makes a public statement, whether on Twitter or any other medium, and however petty or cynical the motive, the consequences are grave. To imply, as the president has through these tweets and other previous statements, that practitioners of Islam are bloodthirsty savages, untethered from the laws and norms of civilized society, poised to overturn all that Western civilization holds good and sacred, is to spread bigotry, to foment hatred, and to incite violence.A central tenet of the Jewish tradition is that words have consequences. Indeed, words create worlds (at least according to the Book of Genesis, in which God speaks the world into existence). And, to borrow a metaphor from the Midrash, like an arrow loosed from a bow, a harsh word cannot be retracted once spoken, and bears the power to do great harm. Passionate about my tradition’s call to pursue justice, affirming my tradition’s foundational principle of the equal and infinite dignity of every human being, and cognizant of the extraordinary power of words, I want to state clearly: I reject the president’s Islamophobic rhetoric and actions in the strongest possible terms, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends and partners in the Muslim community here and abroad against prejudice, bigotry, and hate, especially when it emanates from the most powerful office in the world. I am dedicated to building a country where the divinely-ordained dignity and equality of every person is affirmed, and we therefore resist calls to vilify each other. I urge the president and his supporters to end their assaults on the Muslim community and to take steps to ensure Muslims at home and abroad are treated with fairness and respect.I further call on my fellow Americans from all walks of life, and especially those who purport to be guided by religious values, not to be distracted by the president’s naked attempts to deflect attention from matters like tax reform. Rather, we should renew our commitments to be vigilant and informed citizens, active participants in the democratic process, working together to ensure a more perfect, and a more just and righteous, union.
Read Rabbi Knopf’s Recent Posts