Donald Trump's recent telling of a likely false story about a past American general executing Muslims with bullets soaked in pigs' blood has prompted the sister of a Muslim man shot to death last year to call on the GOP front-runner to chat with her in person about Islam.
Trump made the statement to a cheering crowd in South Carolina on Friday, just a day before he won the state’s Republican primary contest. His words drew immediate condemnation from Muslims and civil rights groups, who decried it as the type of rhetoric is partly responsible for a rise in Islamophobic attacks in recent months.
The woman requesting the meeting is San Francisco physician Suzanne Barakat, 28. Police say her brother Deah, 23, was killed Feb. 10 last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, along with his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and sister-in-law Razan, 19, by a non-Muslim neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, then 46. Although Hicks' family said a dispute over parking sparked the tragedy, the victims’ families maintain the act was a hate crime.
On Saturday, Barakat posted the following message on her Twitter account: “.@realDonaldTrump Meet me in person and tell me my brother, Yusor & Razan were deserving of the bullets.#SCPrimary #OurThreeWinners."
Barakat said she believes that Trump’s tale of U.S. Gen. John Pershing executing Muslim fighters in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War could inspire acts of violence against Muslim Americans.
“It allows for the average Joe to see Muslims the way Craig Hicks saw my brother and his wife of six weeks and her sister,” The New York Times quoted her as saying. She fears his audience will view Muslims “as subhuman, because of their faith.”
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, welcomed Barakat’s invitation to Trump as a way of reaching the outspoken candidate.
“I think Trump's inflammatory rhetoric is based on his lack of knowledge, or lack of interaction with American Muslims and the American Muslim community,” Hooper told Al Jazeera.
Hooper said his organization has seen people abandon their Islamophobic views once they have a conversation with a follower of Islam.
“When people actually interact with each other, Islamophobia can’t help but go down, when you’re seeing people face to face as human beings,” Hooper said.
So far, many interactions between Trump’s supporters and his critics have been far from friendly. Trump’s rousing, rock-concert-like rallies have seen his fans lash out physically against people of color protesting the candidate. Critics charge that his Twitter account serves up incorrect, even racist statements.
After last December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a Muslim couple, Trump urged a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. In South Carolina, that specific proposal resonated with a majority of the state’s GOP primary voters, polls show.
“Trump speaks as if he is the authority on American Muslims,” Barakat said, according to the Times. “Well, if you mean it, then call me up and meet with me and let’s have a chat.”
The apocryphal story Trump told is a rumor that is circulating online, and that historians have rejected as false. It is set during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century, following capture of the islands from Spain in the Spanish-American War. U.S. forces encountered resistance from Filipinos, including some Muslims.
Trump asserted that Gen. Pershing ordered his soldiers to execute 49 of 50 captured Muslim insurgents, using bullets dipped in the blood of a pig, an animal considered ritually unclean in the teachings of Islam and Judaism. Pershing then told the sole survivor, Trump claimed, to “go back to your people and you tell them what happened.”
“And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem” with the insurgency, he said. “We better start getting tough, and we better start getting vigilant and using our heads, or we’re not going to have a country, folks.”
Trump's campaign spokeswoman didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Barakat’s interest in meeting or the authenticity of his story about the Philippines. The real estate mogul turned political juggernaut said at the Friday rally that the story appears in history books, but “not a lot of history books, because they don’t like teaching it.”