The president is speaking a different language. He speaks in values, not literal English.
No reason to be alarmed? Could any reasonable person think the exceedingly professional and measured mayor of London is telling people there’s no reason to be alarmed about terror?
In fact, in the video where the mayor says there’s “no reason to be alarmed” soon after the June 3 attack near London Bridge, the mayor appears to be referring to a larger police presence.
“Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. No reason to be alarmed — one of the things the police and all of us need to do is make sure we’re as safe as we possibly can be,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan, appearing on Sky News.
The international media, following the rules of basic journalism, had to take the president literally in its reporting. “Mr. Trump either misunderstood what Mr. Khan had said or distorted it,” reported The New York Times.
But the purpose of a Trump tweet is not to convey actual information. The president conveys values. Never mind words like “no reason to be alarmed.” That’s not the point. The point of a Trump verbal missile is the unspoken content in the warhead.
Don’t hear what he says. Hear what he values.
In this context, here is what the president may be launching at us:
His strength? Khan tweeted about Trump before he became president, calling Trump’s views on Muslims “ignorant.” He added that Trump “risks alienating mainstream Muslims.” The president has described himself has someone who hits back. He likely sees himself as hitting back against a mayor who attacked him. He’s showing strength, perhaps to himself as much as to others.
Muslims bad? Khan is the first Muslim mayor of a European capital city. By attacking a Muslim leader in the Western World, the president may send the message that there is to be no common ground with Muslims in our midst. Look at it in the larger context. The president has taken no initiative to reach any kind of understanding with Western Muslims.
So if we fire up the Trump translator app (which to my knowledge doesn’t exist, but good grief, someone should start one), the tweet can come off like this: “I’m strong. Muslims bad.”
The far-right Breitbart.com reported the Trump tweet in this way: “President Trump tore into London’s left-wing Mayor Sadiq Khan Sunday in the wake of a terror attack in London that left at least seven dead and dozens injured — after Khan told Londoners there is ‘no reason to be alarmed.’”
People posting comments on the Breitbart article got the message. Here’s one: “Mainstream Muslim? Would that be the Muslim that kills you because of your beliefs or lack of beliefs or the ones that hopes another Muslim kills you because of your beliefs or lack of beliefs?”
It’s as though the comment is saying, “Muslims bad. Got it.”
Which, as a Jew, I find completely unacceptable.
We’re still just a couple generations away from the Holocaust. We know what fear and anger mixed with tribalism can inflict — against us or others.
But never mind that intolerance of Muslims is a gateway drug, already leading to an increased hatred of Jews. Even if we set aside what’s in our interest, it is unacceptable to target a whole group of people because of the behavior of a subset. It simply isn’t right.
We must not be blinded by our spotty history with the Muslim world, from the conflicts with Israel to anti-Semitism on college campuses. On my recent trip to Israel, I met plenty of Muslims who seek a reasonable coexistence.
Muslims are people — some good, others bad. Still others are varied, conflicted and existing along a spectrum.
Nobody should be judged based on the actions of others.
Rob Golub is editor of the Chronicle.