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A sorry state of affairs after Trump’s election

By Michael Jansen

Since Donald Trump’s election victory in November hate crimes, intimidation and vandalism have escalated across the US. The main targets are foreigners, Muslims, Hispanic Americans, African-Americans and other ethnic minorities. In some cases, perpetrators are white supremacists, in others, frustrated individuals who feel free to vent their feelings on innocent men and women.

The fatal shooting of Indian software engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla on February 22 in a bar in Kansas by Adam Purinton, 51, a white, former aircraft controller, has, so far, been the most publicised of these incidents. Purinton shouted at Kuchibhotla “get out of my country” before killing him and wounding an Indian colleague and a white US bystander who attempted to intervene. Purinton thought he was firing upon Iranian men. Iran has been thoroughly demonised by the US political establishment for decades and by Trump and his entourage over the past year. The Kansas incident was followed on March 2 by the shooting death of Harnish Patel, an Indian-origin shopkeeper, in South Carolina, and on March 4 by the wounding of an Indian Sikh man, Deep Rai, in the West Coast state of Washington.

The masked gunman in the second case told Rai: “Go back to your own country!” The perpetrators of both shootings have not, so far, been caught. Following the first incident, Indians were warned to keep a low profile, not to speak Indian languages or circulate alone in public, and if threatened, to call the police at 911. Indians are, however, one of the largest foreign communities residing, studying and working in the US. There are 166,000 Indian students currently there and of the 85,000 H-1B type US work visas granted every year, 70 per cent go mainly to highly skilled Indians. US universities and tech firms would suffer if Indians stayed at home or went elsewhere. In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, on September 11, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was killed in Arizona and three teenagers burned down a Sikh temple in New York. They believed the temple had a connection with Osama Ben Laden.

More than 300 hate crimes involving shootings and beatings were committed against Sikhs between 2001 and 2012. Shooters believed they were Arabs because they wear turbans. Sodhi’s killer, Frank Roque, announced ahead of the killing: “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel heads. We should kill their children, too, because they’ll grow up to be like their parents.” During his arrest, he shouted: “I am a patriot! I stand for America!” Both Purinton and Roque suffer from ignorance. Purinton thought the Indians were Iranians and Roque thought he was killing an Arab. Neither could deal with his personal problems. Purinton was an unemployed alcoholic who grew depressed after his father’s death 18 months before the shooting. Roque was without a job, wife and home.

Disturbed men can feel empowered by a rush of racism, like that following the September 2001 attacks or the election of Trump who waited six days to condemn the fatal shooting in Kansas. He mentioned such crimes without condemning the Kansas incident specifically during his first address to Congress when he claimed: “We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.” When pressed about violence against foreigners or perceived foreigners, Trump replied by condemning violence against “the American people” rather than violence against non-Americans committed by Americans. Violent foreigners are “terrorists”, while violent US citizens are disturbed and need psychological help, in the view of Trump and his ilk.

Writing in The Atlantic on February 28, Anand Giridharadas predicts that Trump’s weak words and failure to take action “will reliably lead to people dying”. Having researched and produced a book on another 2001 case, he points out that “American terrorists” are “dependent on concentric circles of enablement”, and “on ideas and language borrowed” that “gave raw, shapeless emotions a sense of purpose and a narrative”. Giridharadas says Trump’s statements against Muslims and ban on travellers from seven mainly Muslim countries puts ideas into the minds of distressed or angry people. The same thing is true, says Giridharadas, when Trump claims the open borders of the US are enabling “bad hombres and rapists and illegals” to enter the country and prey on honest white citizens. These words and the ongoing round-up of alleged “illegals”, of course, amounts to incitement against Hispanics. During his congressional address, Trump belatedly condemned threats on Jewish Community Centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries. Hate crimes in New York City have risen by 55 per cent since last year at this time, 94 per cent involving anti-Jewish displays or incidents.

When asked about these incidents, Trump suggested his opponents were committing hate crimes to make his supporters “look bad”. This is a tactic previously adopted by racists to shed responsibility for violence and vandalism. Trump has not specifically condemned harassment of Muslims as incidents multiply.  A man threatened a Muslim student at the University of Michigan, demanding she remove her hijab or be set alight. In California, Muslim women have had their heads carves pulled off by Trump supporters. One Muslim woman reported that while she was in a supermarket, a woman snatched away her head scarf, saying: “This is not allowed anymore, so go hang yourself with it around your neck not on your head.” Muslim school children have been taunted by classmates wearing Trump T-shirts who say they are happy Muslims are to be deported. Blacks have been told they will be sent back to Africa. Many have been both abused and threatened. As the rise of Nazism in Europe in the 1930s showed, the combination of nationalism and racism are deadly.

During his campaign and after his election, Trump chose as close advisers white nationalists with racist tendencies. Trump’s chief strategist is Steve Bannon, former executive director of Breitbart News, a leading white nationalist website propagating “fake news” and indulging in Islamophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic rants. Bannon is seen as the ideologue of the Trump White House, a dangerous choice at a time of deep divisions in the US body politic. Trump pledged to “Make America great again”, a slogan attracting white males who have been left behind by prosperity, and social and political change. They believe Trump is to “make American white again” great for them; for poorly educated, angry, white working, farming and lower middle classes, for religious conservatives and for unthinking, born-again Republicans reinvigorated by Trump’s win. Kuchibhotla was the first martyr to the rise of disturbed, angry and armed know nothings.

‘Courtesy The Jordan Times’.

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