Trump’s far-right retweets draw British ire

A statement released by Prime Minister Theresa May’s office described Trump’s actions as “wrong” but did not address calls for a state visit to be cancelled.

Screechy retweets. The logo of the social networking website Twitter displayed on a computer screen in London. (AFP)

2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 19

The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey

London - Anglo-American relations appeared to take a turn for the worse after US President Donald Trump retweeted videos shared by the far-right, anti-Muslim group Britain First, with many calling for a forthcoming state visit by the US president to the United Kingdom to be called off.

“After this latest incident, it is increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had previously called for the government to rescind an as-yet unscheduled state visit by Trump.

“The prime minister of our coun­try should be using any influence she and her government claim to have with the president and his administration to ask him to delete these tweets and to apologise to the British people,” he added.

Trump’s retweets prompted a rare admonishment from 10 Down­ing Street. A statement released by Prime Minister Theresa May’s of­fice described Trump’s actions as “wrong” but did not address calls for a state visit to be cancelled.

In a late-night retweet directed personally at the prime minister — but notably sent to the wrong The­resa May on Twitter — Trump said: “Theresa May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Is­lamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”

The British prime minister ad­dressed the crisis during a visit to Amman, saying she was not afraid to criticise the US president and reiterating British criticism of the retweets.

“I’m very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do. Britain First is a hate­ful organisation. It seeks to spread mistrust and division in our com­munities. It stands against common British decency,” May said.

The anti-Muslim videos retweet­ed by Trump to his nearly 44 mil­lion followers from the account of Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen purportedly show a Mus­lim migrant attacking a Dutch boy on crutches, a Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary and an Islamist mob throwing a teenager off a roof.

It is believed that the first video — “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” — was fake news, with the aggressor in the video not actually a Muslim or migrant, Dutch media reported.

The second video — “Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary!” — is believed to show ex­tremist cleric Omar Gharba, sus­pected of links with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria in 2013.

The third video — “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” — is believed to have been filmed during the ouster of Islamist Egyptian President Mu­hammad Morsi in 2013. Mahmoud Ramadan was found guilty of the attack and executed in 2015. Doz­ens of others were jailed for their involvement in the boy’s death.

Fransen, 31, has a history of anti- Muslim rhetoric and is facing two trials for religiously aggravated harassment and for using threaten­ing and abusive language. She was arrested and fined in 2016 for har­assing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

British Muslim groups expressed concern over Trump’s retweeting Britain First content. “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,” a statement from the Muslim Council of Britain said.

Tell MAMA, a national project that records and measures anti- Muslim incidents in Britain, also condemned Trump’s retweets.

“Tell MAMA strongly condemns the actions of Donald Trump as the politics of Britain First has no place in our society, given their extreme view towards Muslims, the Roma­ni and other communities, where they seek to sow division over dia­logue, which promotes a vision of this country that is at odds with any sense of common decency, plural­ism or religious and cultural toler­ance,” a statement said.

“Today is a sad demonstration of how far extremism has moved further into the mainstream,” the statement added.

The furore surrounding Trump’s retweets led to an urgent question in parliament, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying the govern­ment would not withdraw an invi­tation for Trump to visit the United Kingdom but tacitly acknowledg­ing that any visit would likely be delayed.

“An invitation has been extended and accepted… [but] the dates and the precise arrangements have yet to be agreed,” she said.

Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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