Trigger warning: islamophobia, racism, colonialism, terrorism
By now, you have probably either verbatim or paraphrased Donald Trump’s claims about what happened in Jersey City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Towards the end of last month, he said “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down […] And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.” As of this writing, there appears to have been no evidence produced showing what those statements describe.
Naturally, that hasn’t stopped some, particularly one right-wing source with alleged ties to Trump, from asserting every so often over the past few days that Trump’s characterization of that Muslim community and Muslims in general is backed up with some proof.
Yesterday, they cherry picked quotes from various moderate sources that corroborated aspects of what Donald Trump had claimed. An astoundingly small amount of digging reveals a consistent pattern – that almost all of these are reports or discussions about Muslims celebrating but with (save one exception) no evidence of an actual celebration. Unless you’re willing to believe where there’s smoke there’s a fire, what Breitbart has demonstrated is that at the time people believed Muslims, vast numbers of them even, were celebrating.
Trump himself took a similar approach on twitter on the same day, posting a short clip that makes reporting on allegations of mass celebrations sound like reporting on actual mass celebrations.
Today, Breitbart came back with a new piece, that repeats the same flawed reporting that’s barely above hearsay, but which does have one documented case of terrorist celebration. The “thousands and thousands” have shrunk to a single former terrorist, tied to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1991, and a few of his closest associates.
The idea that this is representative of any Muslim community, outside of the terrorist networks that, well, had previously attacked that very location and finally succeeded in their aims on 9/11, is pretty clearly a stretch.
In a mildly horrifying way, Trump has just resuscitated the same dynamics that transformed this one case of celebration into a justification for putting Muslim communities around the world under the microscope. A few Muslims, distinctive in their particular brand of their religion and their incredibly small political faction, were inflated both then and now into “thousands and thousands” if not more.
That’s the basis of a racist and colonialist worldview in which any lone Muslim’s angry behavior anywhere in the world is seen as exemplary of some underlying violence inherent in all Muslims. Sound familiar yet?
Catalyzing the spread of this narrow and distorted vision of over a billion people, there are the numerous claims that Muslims in areas other than the New York area celebrated on 9/11. One of the most widely assessed has been a clip of cheering Palestinians, supposedly excited over news of the attack.
While the anglophone news media has focused on establishing that it was shot on the day of 9/11, rather than at another time, it’s largely been German-language media that has more thoroughly looked into the video. Most of those shown celebrating are children, and one of the few adults later came forward and said she was cheerful because they promised her sweets if she appeared on camera, apparently for something unrelated to the attacks, and which those filmed may not have even been aware of.
Perhaps the real question people should be asking isn’t why Muslims celebrated on 9/11 but why people want to believe that so badly that they’ve exaggerated, created, and even fabricated stories involving that. Cases of that – including seemingly entirely imagined celebrations used to justify hate crimes – are sadly much easier to find.
The featured image on this article is an 18th Century Shia Muslim calligraphic piece held in the US Library of Congress, viewable here.