A tale of two tweets

There is an ongoing furore over a series of tweets which expose the double standards employed in the general reaction to them and the resultant fall out. As usual, US President Donald Trump and the polarising effect he has on social networks, is at the heart of one of the controversies.

Trump has more than 44 million followers on Twitter and, as the supposed leader of the free world, his views and opinions are followed avidly by them as well as other world leaders, governments, political observers and the media. So, when he shared a series of anti-Muslim tweets from the far-right extremists of Britain First, it was bound to attract universal condemnation for spreading the group’s “deplorable” ideology to a global audience.

While the outrage was largely predictable it also earned him praise from other far-right groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, and members of Britain First itself. With all this praise being heaped upon him, it is highly unlikely that Trump will apologise or delete the tweets in question, and he certainly will not step down as US President; sadly, if anything, his popularity in some unsavoury quarters will increase.

His decision to share the vile ideology of the Britain First extremists will help to normalise hate, racism and Islamophobia in the world today; there will, no doubt, be more verbal and physical attacks on innocent people solely because of the colour of their skin or their religion as a direct result.

Read: Peace One Day… but probably without Trump

The first tweet was a video, originally shared by Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen, which appeared to show “Muslim migrants beating up a Dutch boy on crutches”. A second was captioned “Muslim destroys statue of Virgin Mary”, while a third read “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death”. None of the images were verifiable and at least one is now said to be fake news.

The normally reserved Muslim Council of Britain has already issued a strongly-worded statement condemning Trump: “This is the clearest endorsement yet from the US President of the far-right and their vile anti-Muslim propaganda. We cannot give such bigotry a free pass. We hope our Prime Minister and Home Secretary will distance the UK from Mr Trump and his comments, and will reiterate the government’s abhorrence to all forms of extremism.”

It appears, though, that Donald Trump isn’t the only person to cause a storm by retweeting messages. University of California Berkeley Professor and Chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, Dr Hatem Bazian, is also under attack for retweeting an offensive meme earlier this year. However, unlike Trump, Bazian has issued an apology on his social media accounts “for unintentionally sharing” a distasteful image; he deleted the post immediately when its offensive nature was brought to his attention.

Further unlike Trump, Bazian has a strong record of combatting racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and was said to be genuinely horrified when he realised the full content of what he had retweeted on his phone. However, while it appears that Trump can tweet and retweet hate messages freely — and deliberately — without repercussions, the treatment being meted out to the Berkeley professor is quite different.

Read: Is Trump making the Middle East great again?

Despite his swift apology, acknowledgment of his mistake and deletion of the offending tweets, he is being targeted by zealous pro-Israel groups calling for his immediate dismissal from the university. The tweet at the centre of the storm contained a cartoon showing a Jewish man with his arms raised, juxtaposed with a caption which implied that every Jew is responsible for the breaches of international law and other crimes committed by the State of Israel, or done in its name. Another image included in the retweet was of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with the caption, “I just converted all of North Korea to Judaism.”

Bazian’s apology issued a few days ago is lengthy, but unambiguous and worth reading in full: “A retweet was brought to my attention today and I went over my account from the past and do sincerely apologize for re-sending it, the image is offensive and does not represent my views or the anti-racist work that I do including fighting anti-Semitism in partnership with progressive Jewish groups that express solidarity with Palestine’s rights to self-determination and have a strong track record on countering Islamophobia.

“At the time, I saw the image of the North Korean Kim Jong Un and tweeted it without giving it much thought as I was teaching a course in Spain and France. I did not realize or read the full text in detail until it started re-appearing on my twitter feed again from a number of pro-Israel groups that target Palestinians. As a matter of policy, I don’t respond, as I focus on my work and ignore the attacks.

“As a Palestinian, my issue is with Zionism, a settler colonial movement and Israel’s policies directed at Palestinians under occupation and those that live as second or maybe fourth class citizens in the state and not with Judaism or Jews, as diverse communities.

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“The image in the tweet and the framing relative to Judaism and conversion was wrong and offensive and not something that reflects my position, be it in the past or the present. I take responsibility for my words and statements and stand by my own work relative to Palestine, BDS and opposition to Zionism and settler colonialism and those who take issue on the content of my scholarship and work are welcome to disagree and offer a defence of their point of view in the open market of ideas.

“In the future, I will make sure to include that retweets don’t represent an agreement or support for the ideas that are shared and only my own postings reflect my positions on issues.”

American Muslims for Palestine say the moves to oust the professor are a “politically-motivated campaign” and nothing more than a “deliberate and well-funded effort to silence Palestinian and Muslim voices, and serves as no more than a distraction from the principled cause to which he has dedicated his life: speaking out against the brutality of Israel’s occupation, the denial of rights, and Zionist settler colonialism”.

AMP is urging people to contact the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office in support of Dr Bazian and urge the university not to buckle to pro-Israel pressure. The organisation describes him as a critical Palestinian-Muslim voice and leading researcher on the subject of Islamophobia who, they feel, is being targeted for nothing more than “an honest mistake.” Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a Christian group, is also urging common sense to prevail in favour of the well-known peace advocate and respected academic.

“The University of California’s Regent’s principals against tolerance were violated in the posting of the tweets,” UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told the media. “While we do not believe that all criticism of Israel’s governmental policies is inherently anti-Semitic, the social media posts in question clearly crossed the line, and we are pleased they have been deleted.”

Meanwhile, back in Britain, Labour’s former minister Chuka Umunna MP is calling for an unrepentant Trump’s invitation to visit the UK to be cancelled. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pressed the British government to respond to the US President’s retweets. “I hope our government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump,” said Corbyn. “They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society.”

At the time of writing, Prime Minister Theresa May had not responded personally to the Trump Twitter frenzy. However, Downing Street said that it was “wrong” of Trump to retweet Fransen’s posts because, “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions… It is wrong for the president to have done this.” There was no mention of his invitation to visit Britain being cancelled; not yet, anyway.

LONDON, UK: British Prime Minister Theresa May departs Downing street for Prime Ministers Questions (PMQ's) ahead of this afternoon's Autumn Statement by the Chancellor in London, United Kingdom on 23 November 2016. [Kate Green/Anadolu Agency]

British Prime Minister Theresa May departs from Downing street in London, United Kingdom [Kate Green/Anadolu Agency]

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can call for “a Muslim ban” in the US, and continue to tweet messages of hate and sow division in the world. Elsewhere in America today there is an academic fighting for his career and reputation as a hate campaign targets him, if the truth is told, for being a Palestinian and a fighter of injustice. Admittedly, Professor Hatem Bazian made a serious mistake but, unlike Trump, he apologised without delay and removed the offensive material from his Twitter account.

If President Donald Trump is really going to “make America great again” then he will have to stop causing division in society and damaging his country’s image every time he picks up his mobile phone. He might also give some thought to the reputation for justice and equality around which the United States Constitution was written. Deserved or not, that is a reputation which generally stands the test of public opinion and the law. Witch hunts should be a thing of the past, and the campaign against an honest man who has made a genuine mistake should be stopped. Trump can use his Twitter account to do some good for a change, and offer Dr Bazian his support. That is a far more American thing to do than retweet far-right racist propaganda.