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Why a Joy Reid Apology Matters for Muslims


On Monday night, Joy Reid used her massive platform on MSNBC to make an important point: President Trump is wrongly getting a free pass for encouraging and excusing violent white nationalists.

But of all the many ways she could have made that point, Reid decided to deploy a false, dangerous anti-Muslim stereotype that is constantly used by hate groups and right-wing white nationalists to justify violence against my community.

On Monday’s edition of her national cable news show the ReidOut, Reid began her discussion by saying, “the 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 U.S. media describe that as they are radicalizing those people — particularly they are radicalizing young people. 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 radicalizing people?”

For years, conservative pundits, hate groups and white nationalists have pushed this false narrative that Muslims are inherently violent and that Islam is the number one enemy of “classical western civilization.” As a result, deranged men armed with guns and bombs have attacked us.

In Bloomington, MN in 2017, three men who believed that Muslims are violent terrorists bombed a mosque. In Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, a man who wrote about “Muslim scum” who “despise the west’s liberal degeneracy” massacred 51 people in two mosques. In the White House, a senior adviser to the president who has repeatedly pushed this same, harmful narrative about western civilization has helped author the Muslim Ban and many of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

So, when I saw Joy Reid spreading and legitimizing this exact narrative to her audience of millions, I was incensed but not entirely surprised.

Casual, anti-Muslim bigotry has a long history in liberal circles. Bill Maher, for example, has repeatedly said these same things — often while liberals in good standing sit by or even chuckle along. Joy Reid herself has a similar track record, writing in her old blog that “current iterations of Islam are largely incompatible with Western notions of free speech and expression.”

After her comments, many American Muslims called on her to apologize, including America’s first Muslim congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

To date, she has not. Instead, she tweeted that “there’s been some thoughtful commentary but also some willful distortion of the points I tried to make yesterday. We’ll discuss in more depth tomorrow on the show!”

I’ll be watching her show tonight to see how she handles it. I hope she takes a page out of her own playbook: she should apologize for demonizing our community — a community she claims to stand with on basic issues of dignity and equality.

She’s definitely capable of apologizing and has done so in the past. Her old blog posts, in addition to anti-Muslim bigotry, also contain shocking examples of anti-LGBTQ bigotry, including saying that gay men prey on “impressionable teens.” To date, Reid still denies writing the posts but she said the controversy was an opportunity to discuss how harmful speech can “imperil marginalized communities.”

Reid saw the harm in those words and other anti-LGBTQ comments she had made in the past, and she did the right thing. She sincerely apologized. She delivered a heartfelt on air apology for almost four minutes and hosted a panel of LGBTQ people to discuss the issues they face.

What was missing from the apology? Any regret or apology for the harm she caused Muslims.

Reid’s self-awareness and humility with her issues of LGBTQ equality is noteworthy and laudable. But she still hasn’t discussed the harm she caused with her anti-Muslim posts, which spread a false, toxic belief that invites hate and violence against my community.

Tonight, Joy Reid has a chance to make that apology and help undo the hate and potential for violence that she has unleashed. However, she must do more than just apologize for an inartfully worded analogy. Tonight, she must acknowledge that she spread the harmful stereotype that all Muslims are violent — not only on her show on Monday but also multiple times on her old blog.

Reid must take a deep look at her own biases, biases that are shared by other liberals like Bill Maher — a notorious anti-Muslim bigot who appeared on her show just last week.

These biases are seen through liberals’ tepid embrace of American Muslims. We are often only embraced so long as we’re useful in fighting for their political agenda. Liberals have plastered hijabi women on resistance posters, protested the Muslim Ban and posed on magazine covers with Ilhan Omar. It feels good to celebrate diversity, but putting those values into practice is much harder to do.

Muslims have been threatened, banned, bombed, and murdered simply because of our faith. We exist in a media environment that either portrays us as inherently violent or embraces us only when we lean into a safe, religious stereotype. Truly being an ally to American Muslims requires acknowledging even liberals’ complicity in this oppressive, exhausting state of affairs and doing everything possible to atone and fight hate.

Joy Reid was able to do that on air for the LGBTQ community. I urge her to do the same for Muslims.

Farhana Khera is the co-founder and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks.