It’s a bit rich for anyone to accuse Baktash Ahadi of not being patriotic, when he served in the US Marines for three years as a military interpreter on the frontline against Islamist terrorism. Now, in the atmosphere of Islamophobia stoked by President Trump, the Afghanistan-born veteran says, “It feels like you’re not seen. It feels like you’re never going to be good enough.”
“Do you have what it takes?” demands the recruitment video for one of the many militia groups of the growing “patriot movement”. Director-presenter Deeyah Khan certainly has, delving seemingly without fear into this subculture of white resentment and heavy weaponry. In Minnesota she tracks down and interviews “General Blood Agent”, who’s fairly measured (“We don’t advocate death or killing, especially of innocent people”), at least until he starts talking about “satanic powers” and his odd ideas about the Muslim call to prayer. Spurred on by Isis-inspired atrocities, such as the mass murder in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the militias offer a sense of brotherhood and belonging to lost souls like the drink-and-drug afflicted Patrick Stein, serving 30 years for a white supremacist murder plot. The way that opposing extremist groups quickly come to resemble each other couldn’t be clearer.
Khan balances her examination of the militias with interviews with the Muslims they fear and mistrust. Most prominent is Somalia-born Ilhan Omar, one of the three congresswomen of colour Trump focused on in his infamous “go back” speech. Omar confirms that whenever Trump verbally attacks her (“The President doesn’t really use dog whistles”), threats pour into her office.
Trump’s inflammatory statements to his base have a similar effect at street level. Asma Jama had a glass smashed into her face in a café for speaking in Swahili to her nieces, yet she made an impassioned statement about their shared humanity at the sentencing hearing for her attacker. Rais Bhuiyan strove to have the death penalty commuted for the man who shot him in the face in his gas station, and went on to kill.
The most fascinating segment concerns Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit where a third of the population is Arab-American. It’s the focus of many online myths among white supremacist groups, including that its police chief, Ronald Haddad, is a Muslim (he’s Christian), and that the town is under sharia law. This last is the oft-invoked great fear of the militia groups. Khan meets “Bikers for Trump”, who have turned up in force in Dearborn because they’ve heard Christians are being stoned there. Still it's not as if Trump never tosses American Muslims a crumb or two; here he is hosting an iftar dinner in the White House during Ramadan: “It’s a great month!”
On ITV from November 1 at 10.50pm
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