- Megan Specia The New York Times
Early Wednesday, President Donald Trump set off international outrage when he shared a series of videos depicting Muslims in a negative light.
The videos, taken in three countries at three different times, have one thing in common: They all purport to show violence carried out by Muslims and offer no clear explanation of what is happening in front of the camera.
But a closer look at the clips, first tweeted out by Jayda Fransen of the fringe nationalist group Britain First and then retweeted by Trump, reveals more, including that one video misrepresents the facts of what the viewer is seeing, while the other two lack context about what is happening.
Here is a breakdown of what we know about the videos.
‘Muslim migrant’ beating up Dutch boy was himself Dutch
The first video was of a teenager attacking another boy and was presented in the tweet as footage of a “Muslim migrant” attacking a Dutch boy.
But according to local officials, both boys are Dutch, and neither is a migrant.
The clip was taken in May in Monnickendam, a small town in the North Holland province of the Netherlands. It shows a teenager punching and kicking a boy holding a crutch.
The public prosecutor’s office in the province said the aggressor was a 16-year-old who was “born and raised in the Netherlands.” He was arrested after the video came to light, officials said.
The video gives no indication of the background of either teenager. Both are speaking Dutch in the clip.
Marleen van Fessem, a press officer for the public prosecutor, said in a statement that the teenager was sentenced under a program for juvenile offenders.
Van Fessem would not elaborate on the religion of either of the teenagers, saying it was not policy to discuss such information. But she said the rapid spread of the video without the facts was detrimental.
“News travels fast, even local news!” she said. “Missing context information clearly can affect its reliability.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the official Twitter account of the Embassy of the Netherlands in the United States pointed out the facts of the case to the president. ".@realDonaldTrump Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.”
It is unclear where Fransen’s version of events came from when she tweeted the video early Wednesday with the caption, “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” Britain First did not respond to requests for comment.
Statue of Virgin Mary destroyed by Syrian extremist
The second video retweeted by Trump shows a man smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary in Syria.
The original tweet with the video describes the man simply as “Muslim.” But he is an extremist Syrian cleric, Abo Omar Ghabra, who was in the militant Islamist group Jabhet al-Nusra at the time. The destruction of religious iconography carried out by extremist Islamist groups has long been condemned by the wider Muslim population. The tweet lacks this context.
The incident took place in October 2013 in Qunaya, a village in the northern countryside of Idlib province, said Nazir Abdo, 28, who lived in the village at the time.
Abdo now works as a media activist documenting human rights violations in Syria and was reached in Turkey by phone. He said the cleric later joined ISIS in Raqqa but fled when U.S.-backed forces captured the city. Ghabra was eventually detained by Syrian rebels in Aleppo.
Before this incident, Jabhet al-Nusra militants destroyed another statue of the Virgin Mary on the city’s main roundabout by chopping it with an ax and then demolishing it. They later erected their flag there.
The footage of Ghabra was widely circulated by several groups in 2013, including the Iranian state-run news outlet Al Alam and Alex Jones’ InfoWars — the right-wing site that often propagates conspiracy theories and rumor. It has continued to find new life in the world of far-right, anti-Muslim outlets and conservative media activists.
Footage of man pushed from building, during Egypt unrest
The last clip retweeted by Trump was described in the original tweet as: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”
The footage was taken July 5, 2013, during clashes in the Sidi Gaber neighborhood of Alexandria, Egypt, between supporters of Mohammed Morsi, who had recently been ousted as the democratically elected president, and his opponents. That information was missing from the tweet as was any explanation of the complex political situation in Egypt at the time.
The incident occurred days after the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi, when tensions were running high across the political spectrum. After Morsi’s removal, there was a wave of clashes between his supporters, opponents and the police in different parts of Egypt. That violence was then later dwarfed by the military’s dispersal of Islamist sit-ins in Cairo in August of that year, which killed over 800 protesters in a single day.
A man in the background of the video can be seen carrying a black flag, which was initially carried by many supporters of different Islamist groups before it became synonymous with the Islamic State.
The man with the black flag, Mahmoud Ramadan, was found guilty of murder for the death of one of the teenagers pushed off the roof; he was hanged in March 2015. The teenagers on the roof were believed to have thrown stones at an anti-military rally, which may have provoked the assault captured on video, according to Egyptian state media.
While the video was a clear depiction of violence, tweeting it without context fails to take into account the political unrest and the actions from many parties that were driven by political affiliations.