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Joy Reid's 'Islamophobic' remarks spark calls for apology

Reid's comments, which compare Trump's actions with 'the way Muslims act' when 'radicalising' supporters, stirs anger in Muslim-American community
Even if comment was misstated analogy, Muslim advocacy groups say apology is due (AFP/File photo)

In a highly partisan US media landscape, MSNBC has been a liberal counterweight to Fox News's right-wing bias. The network is home to many journalists and commentators who incessantly criticise President Donald Trump's policies.

And while American Islamophobia appears to be tolerated, if not encouraged, in Trump's Republican Party, the US president took to twitter early on Wednesday to accuse MSNBC journalist Joy Reid of "xenophobia and racism" over comments she made about Muslims.

On Tuesday, Reid compared Trump's divisive rhetoric around racial tensions and civil unrest to Muslim leaders who "radicalise" their supporters. 

"When leaders, let's say in the Muslim world, talk a lot of violent talk and encourage their supporters to be willing to commit violence, including on their own bodies, in order to win against whoever they decide is the enemy, we - in the US - media describe that as: They are radicalising those people - particularly when they're radicalising young people," Reid said. 

'I hope that Joy Reid will not just issue an apology under pressure but genuinely try to learn more about Islam, American Muslims, and the broader Muslim community'

- Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR

"That's how we talk about the way Muslims act. When you see what Donald Trump is doing, is that any different from what we describe as radicalising people?"

Reid was referring to recent comments by the president that his critics say encourage violence by his followers against Black Lives Matter protesters. 

Her remarks sparked accusations of Islamophobia with many Muslim activists and politicians calling on her to apologise.

"Honestly, this kinda [sic] of casual Islamophobia is hurtful and dangerous," Congresswoman Ilhan Omar wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "We deserve better and an apology for the painful moment for so many Muslims around our country should be forthcoming."

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib echoed Omar's call for an apology.

"Words matter and these words feed into the harmful anti-Muslim rhetoric & actions that we continue to see in this country. It is even more painful to hear it from someone I admire," she said. "We deserve an apology."

Racial tensions

Hours later, Trump also slammed Reid in a rare moment where he seemed to agree with the Muslim congresswomen whom he had consistently attacked with Islamophobic undertones.

"The very untalented Joy Reid should be fired for this horrible use of the words 'Muslim Terrorists,'" Trump tweeted around dawn on Wednesday. "Such xenophobia and racism on MSDNC. Anyone else would be gone, and fast!!!"

It is not clear whether he Trump being facetious. The president has a history of perpetuating anti-Muslim bigotry. As a candidate in 2015, he proposed a "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", and once elected, he imposed a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries.

In his current campaign for re-election in November, Trump has seized on turmoil associated with racial justice protests to portray himself as the solution to impose law and order. 

Last week, his supporters clashed with Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, and the violence killed one counterprotester. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Trump-supporting teenage vigilante fatally shot two people amid protests and riots after police shot a Black man seven times in the back.

Trump did not distance himself from the violence. Instead, he egged it on, retweeting a video of a counterprotester shooting a paintball gun at Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Portland and "liking" a post that appeared to justify the Kenosha shooting.

These dynamics around racial tensions and Trump are uniquely American, so Reid's uncalled-for invoking of Muslims irked many activists. But reactions varied from explicitly accusing the journalist of Islamophobia to faulting her for using a misstated and unfortunate analogy.

Reid, who hosted a nightly show after the questionable remarks and has been active on Twitter, has not addressed the controversy.

The MSNBC host has a habit of comparing Trump to foreign leaders. After the US president accepted the Republican nomination in a lengthy speech last month, Reid said Trump reminded her of Cuba's Fidel Castro and late Congolese autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko.

"All I have to say is as I'm watching this, I'm thinking Fidel Castro, Julius Caesar, Mobutu Sese Seko," she said. 

"That was not an American president giving an acceptance speech. That was a monarch. It was - it was very much like what Castro used to do, an hour and 10 minutes, that clocked in." 

'Hugely misleading'

Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group, slammed Reid from failing to apologise on Tuesday night.

"An unfortunate reality for American Muslims today is that anti-Muslim comments like this are routinely made by people who are ostensibly sympathetic to us," Madihha Ahussain, the group's special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry, said in a statement.

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"But that should not give them a pass to promote hate. Reid’s words erase the painstaking work Muslims have done to protest the Trump administration’s bigoted policies and fight for equality for all people.

"Her words give white nationalists a license to commit more bigotry and violence against our community. Joy Reid, Muslims are hurting and you’re contributing to the problem."

Some commentators had rushed to defend Reid. Jennifer Rubin, a conservative pundit turned Trump critic who is also an MSNBC commentator, said the criticism of Reid was "hugely misleading".

"She was making the point about a double standard. She was not AGREEING with it," Rubin wrote on Twitter.

But social media users were quick to point to Rubin's own past Islamophobic comments. For example, in 2010, she slammed then-President Barack Obama for coming out in support of Muslims' rights to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan near the site of the 9/11 attacks.

"Obama has shown his true sentiments now, after weeks of concealing them, on an issue of deep significance not only to the families and loved ones of 3,000 slaughtered Americans but also to the vast majority of his fellow citizens... His sympathies for the Muslim World take precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens. This is nothing short of an abomination," she wrote at the time.

'Inaccurate and offensive'

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy director at the Council on American Islamic Relations, said Reid's analogy was "indisputably inaccurate and offensive".

"Now what I hope she was trying to say is that just like the leaders of extremist groups, try to radicalise people, and inspire them to commit acts of violence, President Trump has been radicalising his supporters to commit violence," Mitchell told MEE.

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"The problem is that she didn't make a comparison between extremists; she made a blanket statement about leaders of the Muslim world and all Muslims acting in a certain way."

Even then, Mitchell added, it is unnecessary to bring up Muslims in a negative light at a time of increased bigotry.

"President Trump and the extremism he inspires stands on its own. And there truly is no comparison to it, given that he's the president of the United States."

Beyond an apology, Mitchell called for greater inclusion of American Muslims on MSNBC. "In the long term, I hope that Joy Reid will not just issue an apology under pressure but genuinely try to learn more about Islam, American Muslims, and the broader Muslim community."