Steve Bannon Contributed to Anti-Muslim Hate. American Media Must Call Him Out.

It's time we took Islamophobic bigotry seriously.

11/17/2016 06:18 pm ET
Carlo Allegri / Reuters
President-elect Donald Trump recently tapped Steve Bannon to be his chief strategist.

For those like myself who vehemently opposed Donald Trump in this election but still hope he can truly be a “president for all Americans” as he pledged in his victory speech, it’s been stunning to see the people named to his transition team and being considered for his administration.

As headlines like “President’s Trump’s Cabinet Will Be Filled With Deplorables” and “Trump’s Cabinet Is Going to Be As Bonkers as You Thought” make clear, the U.S. president-elect has chosen to undergo this transition with far-right and controversial people. Anti-LGBTQ activist Ken Blackwell is among this group, and Trump will likely give a major cabinet position to the destructively divisive Rudy Giuliani who himself has called Black Lives Matter “racist” and “anti-American.”

And it gets worse. Trump has tapped Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Thankfully, a firestorm erupted this week as countless media outlets noted that the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, under Bannon’s leadership, has become a platform for the ”alt right” and as such it, “embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.”

The message this sends is that anti-Muslim hate doesn’t matter enough for media to discuss it. That somehow the demonizing of Muslims ― as opposed to white supremacism or anti-Semitism ― is not viewed as hateful.

I’m thrilled to see media calling out the hate and lack of experience these recent appointees will bring, and specifically to see that many journalists have finally exposed Breitbart’s transformation into a platform for hate under Steve Bannon’s helm as chairman. But regrettably, a lot of criticism of Bannon has all but ignored that during his reign, Breitbart also became a platform for much anti-Muslim hate speech.

I’m talking some of the most vocal anti-Muslim bigots in America ― Pamela Geller and Frank Gaffney included. Yet when American media outlets pulled together lists of the most hateful articles featured on Breitbart to prove to America who this man is, they, for the most part, left off any mention of anti-Muslim articles. Just take this recent New York Times article that noted the anti-Semitic, anti-women articles, etc. but not a peep about the despicable Muslim-bashing.

The message this sends is that anti-Muslim hate doesn’t matter enough for media to discuss it. That somehow the demonizing of Muslims  ― as opposed to white supremacism or anti-Semitism ― is not viewed as hateful. And we need to change that.

Let’s correct this once and for all: Anti-Muslim hate is just as morally wrong and repugnant as anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or sexism. Consequently, media coverage should treat anti-Muslim bigotry the same. And judging by what Breitbart has served up in terms of Muslim hatred during Bannon’s tenure alone should disqualify him from any position in the White House.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Political blogger Pamela Geller has made anti-Muslim comments on Breitbart for years.

Just look at the people Breitbart has provided a platform for in recent years under Trump’s new strategist. It’s like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-Muslim activists come to life.

There’s Pamela Geller, who the SPLC has dubbed the, “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”

Well under Bannon, Breitbart has given her a venue through which to spew hate against Muslims for years. Geller, who has also served up racist comments about President Obama, claiming he was, “involved with a crack whore in his youth ... find the ho, give her a show!” has also written that Islamophobia is a “false propaganda concept.” Tell that to the victims of the anti-Muslim hate crimes documented recently by the FBI that spiked 67 percent in 2015.

Win McNamee via Getty Images
Frank Gaffney, who the SPLC dubbed "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes," has been featured on Breitbart's website.

Then there’s Frank Gaffney, a man the SPLC has called, “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Gaffney has been welcomed to both write for Breitbart’s website as well as appear on its Bannon-hosted radio show numerous times. 

Simply put, Gaffney has tried to marginalize any Muslim American who wants to serve in government with claims like that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated every part of the U.S. government and civil institutions. And he has literally called for McCarthy-type hearings to root out Muslims he deems disloyal to our government.

There are also many others the SPLC has designated as part of the “anti Muslim inner circle,” that the Bannon-led Breitbart gave a platform to, including Geller’s partners in hate Robert Spencer, Debbie Schlussel and David Horowitz.

Anti-Muslim hate is just as morally wrong and repugnant as anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or sexism.

And add to that list Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of an organization that describes Islam as “a backward and seditious political ideology.” In her recent Breitbart article she wrote that the GOP’s Saba Ahmed, a Trump supporter and a lawyer, is actually an “Islamist” who supports a, “worldwide caliphate that would undo America from within.” The obvious goal here is to gin up fears of all Muslims and marginalize our voices.

But wait, there’s more. Breitbart under Bannon even proudly welcomed an anti-Muslim activist outside of America to spew vile hate against Muslims in the form of Dutch lawmaker Geerts Wilders. Wilders, a man the ADL has called out for his despicable “anti-Muslim agenda,” penned numerous articles for Breitbart, including one in February titled, “Stopping Islamic Immigration Is a Matter of Survival.” In that article Wilders wrote, “Islam is an existential threat to our Western freedoms and our Judeo-Christian civilization.” 

I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you get the idea. Under Bannon, Breitbart is truly a one-stop shop for anti-Muslim hate. Yet, with few exceptions like The Huffington Post, media outlets, and especially cable news channels, have failed to adequately cover this as a reason for why Bannon is unfit to serve in the White House. And this lack of coverage contributes to Islamophobia as well.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images
If Trump truly wants to be the “president of all Americans” as he claims, then it’s time he show us that by dumping Bannon.

I wish Breitbart could just be dismissed like other anti-Muslim websites such as Pam Geller’s own blog that is read by a very small subset of Americans. But Breitbart has a far larger reach. Per the Wall Street Journal’s “Blue Feed, Red Feed” page that tracks the websites read by liberals and conservatives, Breitbart has a very wide audience on the right. Consequently, Bannon’s emboldening of some of the most despicable anti-Muslim activists out there has contributed to misinforming Americans about Islam and increasing anti-Muslim hate in this already polarized nation.

If Trump truly wants to be the “president of all Americans” as he claims, then it’s time he show us that by dumping Bannon. And if Trump refuses, then I hope American media will zealously cover Trump, Bannon and any other Trump administration officials’ anti-Muslim bigotry the same way they rightfully report about hate directed against other minority and marginalized communities. Hate is hate. And it’s time we treat anti-Muslim bigotry as such.   

The Huffington Post is documenting the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in America. Take a stand against hate.

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