What Trump didn't say reaffirms fear among Muslim Americans

Shortly after President Trump finished his joint address to Congress on Tuesday evening, Salam Al-Marayati got to work.

The Sunland, Calif., resident placed his laptop on his dining room table and began a Facebook live-video feed, discussing Trump’s moderate tone and whether it was divisive. During Al-Marayati’s 21-minute video — which reached 5,000 people — he answered people’s questions about Islam. 

“If you want to know what American Muslims are about, talk to an American Muslim. ... They are everywhere. … If you don’t know where to find them, call us and we will help you to find them,” he suggested in the video. 

Annotated transcript: President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress »

Al-Marayati is the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a Los Angeles-based organization that serves to amplify Muslim American voices around the country. He posted the video to the organization’s Facebook page, describing Trump’s speech as “fear mongering.” 

Al-Marayati was one of thousands, if not millions, of Muslim Americans who sat in front of their television sets on Tuesday night, eager to learn how Trump’s policies towards immigrants and minorities might affect their place in America.

Trump’s changed persona and air of seriousness surprised Al-Marayati. Among the economic and military topics that Trump touched on during his 60-minute speech, he also appealed across the political divide, vowing to work with Muslim allies to fight Islamic State.

But, in other ways, Trump remained steadfast in his hard-line view on Islam and terrorism.

“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists,” he said. 

“We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said, to loud cheers from some lawmakers. 

That phrase is particularly problematic to many Muslims who say it paints a monolithic picture of Islam. But what struck Al-Marayati most about Trump’s speech was what the president didn’t say.  

“I’m glad Trump condemned anti-Semitism. He didn’t acknowledge attacks on Muslims though nor did he talk about white extremism. There were many gaps in his logic,” he said.      

Trump’s speech takes place against a backdrop of increasing anxiety for minorities and immigrants. His travel ban of refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, which he fervently defended during his speech, sent a wave of fear throughout Los Angeles’ immigrant community and divided families before it was halted in federal court in February.

 His speech also takes place at a time when an uptick in hate crimes has been reported across the nation, targeting Jews, immigrants and other minorities.

Dr. Sadegh Namazikha, founder and president of the Iman Cultural Center in Culver City, didn’t find Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims on Tuesday evening different from what the president preached on the campaign trail. 

The 69-year-old, who emigrated from Iran to America 40 years ago, said he was driving to a meeting when Trump’s speech started. He pulled his car to the side of the road and listened to Trump’s remarks for 45 minutes. 

“I was trying to hear something new and was looking for something different, but I couldn’t find it. I did notice that his tone was changed,” Namazikha said

He was upset,  however, when Trump claimed that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

 None of the attackers since Sept. 11 emigrated or came from a family that emigrated from the seven majority-Muslim countries that Trump singled out during his travel ban of refugees and citizens, according to a study by New America, a Washington-based think tank that tracks terrorist attacks in America.

“The large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents,” the report said.  

Despite divisions over Trump’s policies that target Muslims and immigrants, Al-Marayati said that he’s noticed more people vocalizing support for the Muslim American community.  

Al-Marayati fled Baghdad with his family in 1963, when he was only 4 years old. Now married with three children, he said reaching across party lines is more important than ever.  

“Trump, in a strange way, forced people to discuss Islam. Now we are able to show who we are: doctors, teachers, businessman, lawyers,” he said.  

melissa.etehad@latimes.com 

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

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