What a Facebook status can teach us about Islamophobia

Last week a high school vice-principal in the US almost lost his job over a Facebook status commenting on the dangers of white "Christian" men with easy access to guns, referring to them as terrorists. In the same week Donald Trump called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the US, and yet remains way ahead in the Republican presidential nomination race.

Donald Trump has defended his call to ban Muslims from the US.Reuters

The day after a white gunman shot and killed three people and wounded nine others in at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Piet Lammert wrote a status on his personal Facebook account backing Bernie Sanders, who's called for more gun controls, and saying:

"The only terrorists we need to fear are domestic white 'Christian' men with easy access to guns. Vote Bernie."

His words sparked outrage in his community – Lammert had accidentally set his settings to public rather than private – to the point that he has issued two apologies, gained national news coverage and almost lost his job of 17 years.

Lammert lives in a community where, as one Facebook user commented, there are many "white Christian men with easy access to guns", and you can see how they might be offended by the insinuation that they are "terrorists" by the vice-principal of the local school.

When one ethnic group is isolated, pointed at and held collectively responsible for the act of another member of their perceived sub-set of society, it's natural that that group is quite cross. To imply that all men who are Christians and have guns must be terrorists is a false conclusion. To imply that all men who are Christians and have guns have any relation to or inside knowledge of the mindset of the man who killed three people at Planned Parenthood is, again, false.

Of course, this insinuation was not Lammert's intention. As he said in his apology, his bold statement was in fact an "exaggeration", reflecting his "urgent distress at the epidemic of mass violence in our country, which more recent events have proven to span all social groups" and an "effort to point out that we run the risk of simplifying the problem by singling out a particular ethnic group". 

Not all white Christian gun-owning men are terrorists because one white Christian gun-owning man was. That would be an outrageous conclusion. Similarly outrageous is the conclusion that all Muslims are ISIS extremists because one man who identifies as Muslim is an ISIS extremist. 

The reality is that America, and more broadly the West, is in danger of applying a double standard, putting innocent people in the same category as terrorists simply because of their faith. Donald Trump has called for a "total and complete shutdown" of the country's borders to Muslims in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.This has sparked outrage, yet he remains the Republican front-runner at 29.3 per cent in the polls, with strong evangelical Christian support.

Surely, as Christians, we should be calling out this false narrative, rather than supporting it? That Lammert's choice of words were "rash", as he described them, is probably true, but Trump's are far more concerning. What Lammert implied in his Facebook status is exactly what Trump is saying, and meaning, in his proposed policies.

You can't have it both ways. The white evangelicals who complained so bitterly about Lammert's comments need to be held to account for their support of Donald Trump. What he is saying is much worse – and he wants to be the next president.