The Trump presidency has ushered in a wave of unabashed Islamophobia. From his campaign assertion that “Islam hates us,” to his implementation of a Muslim ban, hate crimes against American Muslims have skyrocketed since Donald Trump came arrived at the White House. And despite the early promises to dial back American aggression in the Middle East, it didn’t take long for Trump to reveal himself as a threat to Muslims abroad.
Michael Bloomberg says that he’s entered the presidential race to counter Trump’s divisive rhetoric. He wants to unify the country, he says, by reincorporating minority communities that have been marginalized by Trump’s attacks.
But in many respects, Bloomberg’s record on racism is just as bad as Trump’s, and his fourteen years as mayor of New York provide many of the details. While his anti-black stop-and-frisk program has in recent weeks faced some criticism, Bloomberg’s record of Islamophobia has thus far evaded scrutiny. A glance at that record reveals that Bloomberg offers no meaningful alternative to Trump’s divisiveness. On the contrary, Michael Bloomberg is just another billionaire Islamophobe.
Mayor of Surveillance
During his time as mayor in the aftermath of September 11, Bloomberg and his New York Police Department (NYPD) implemented a surveillance program to spy on every mosque in the city, plus those within a hundred-mile radius, leading the NYPD (well beyond its jurisdiction) to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Police stationed cars outside of mosques to take pictures and videos of those coming and going, as well as recording the license plate numbers of congregants. They also employed a culture of “create and capture,” sending police informants into mosques to create conversations on topics relating to terrorism, and then arrest and prosecute those reeled in.
In the New York of Bloomberg’s mayoralty, just being Muslim was adequate grounds for suspicion. Muslim Americans lived in violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and to privacy from unwarranted surveillance. But despite targeting hundreds of mosques across four states, the NYPD did not uncover a single terrorism lead. The result was simply stigmatization and fear, and a gross infringement on the religious rights of Muslims.
Bloomberg operated an Islamophobic police state in New York City of which a Muslim hater like Trump could only dream. Unlike stop and frisk, for which Bloomberg has issued a timid apology, Bloomberg has never distanced himself from this atrocious spying program. Instead, he has doubled down to defend it.
As late as 2018, Bloomberg hosted a $10,000 a plate fundraiser for Republican Congressman Peter King, who is known for his statement that, “there are too many mosques in this country.” Citing a population “sympathetic to radical Islam,” he said that, “we should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.”
King is also known for having hosted congressional hearings in 2010 to investigate the alleged “radicalization” of Muslim Americans, including their supposed lack of cooperation with law enforcement. Many compared his rhetoric to the McCarthyist hysteria of the 1950s, but Bloomberg saw fit to stand by his side.
Bloomberg or Trump?
Like Trump, Bloomberg rides the wave of nativism, and makes openly racist statements about Muslims. At a 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg referred to a bloc of Muslim-majority countries as “the whole crazy Islamic world.” Trump’s reference to Africa and Haiti as “shithole countries,” was an echo of Bloomberg’s earlier statement.
Like Trump, Bloomberg’s nativism in no way precludes militarism: he supported the Iraq War in 2003, and endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2004. It is estimated that as many as 2.4 million Iraqis were killed in that war, but just last month, Bloomberg remained unrepentant, stating that he does not regret his support.
The two billionaires also find common ground again in their defense of Israeli atrocities in Palestine. In 2014, in the midst of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza that killed more than 500 Palestinian children, Bloomberg flew to Israel in defiance of the State Department’s travel warning. He placed blame for the violence solely on Hamas, exonerating the Israeli government of its various war crimes, which have been thoroughly documented by human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Where other nominees in the Democratic race have suggested that American military aid would be conditioned on Israel abiding by certain standards of international law, Bloomberg stands on his own. In January he tweeted that “I will always have Israel’s back,” and that he would “never condition aid to Israel.”
Muslims killed in countries like Palestine and Iraq do not even register on Bloomberg’s moral radar. They are merely collateral damage caught in the cross fire of the American empire. He is an Islamophobe to the bones, a convenient trait for an American militarist.
A Bloomberg presidency would be disastrous for American Muslims, and all those concerned about the growing tide of Islamophobia. Rather than confront Trump’s nativism, militarism, and Islamophobia, a President Bloomberg would only replicate it.