Op-ed Muslim survival in the age of Trump
The Accelerated Dismemberment of the “Muslim World” In the Trump Era
ABDUL CADER ASMAL
Widening internecine wars in the Middle East and the prospect of opulent so-called Muslim countries being reduced to the congener status of “failed states” — Iraq, Syria and Yemen, among others — have made entirely deafening the silence of the rest of the Muslim world, including U.S. Muslims, in condemning the provocative measures that ignited and now fuel such a scenario.
When Muslims are on the receiving end of depredations (the extermination of the Rohingya Muslims by Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, Central African Muslims by mostly Christian Antibalaka militia men, the near annihilation of Bosnian and Chechen Muslims by Serbian and Russian Orthodox armies, simmering tensions between Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land and between Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir), there is a predictable knee-jerk reaction of outrage by Muslim activists, mostly genuine (popular), and some sanctimonious (“official.”) The selective portrayal of Muslim victimization by some Muslims themselves in the name of Islam is exploited to deride their credibility and their own claims of Islamophobia.
Current events are a nightmare. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, as government security forces fought to reclaim it from ISIS. In the northern Syrian town of Raqqa, U.S.-led airstrikes against the ISIS stronghold have killed a staggering number of civilians and displaced 160,000 more. What might follow in the apparent death throes of ISIS and in the reincarnation of Iran as the focal point of “terrorism” has the potential for even more catastrophic consequences. It may be no coincidence that they come on the heels of President Donald Trump’s gala summit with 55 Muslim-majority countries. Trump quite correctly identified the threat of ISIS to civilizational equanimity and called for a unified front to counter this scourge against humanity. No one disagreed that a multinational, preferably Muslim-led, coalition against a universally accepted cesspool of terror would be the right thing to do. Its elimination would free all Muslims from a collective guilt and allow Islam to regain its role as a leading world religion.
Having received the plaudits of his evidently compliant Muslim hosts, Trump immediately shifted his attention to Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace. Such chutzpah played well with an obsequious audience that had not dared to challenge Trump’s worldview that “Islam hates us.” Certainly not by those who viewed Iran as an implacable foe whose hegemony had to be quashed. Within a few days of the “summit,” Qatar, which ironically has a large U.S. base, was linked as a sympathizer of Iran, supporter of Hamas and accommodator of the Muslim Brotherhood. This immediately galvanized its isolation from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and even the ever-opportunistic government of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt.
The economic isolation of Qatar has set the stage for the potential Saudi invasion of its Muslim neighbor, as has transpired in Yemen. (Parenthetically, while Yemen is being bombed and starved to death, to ingratiate themselves with President Trump, Saudi Arabia and the UAE gifted a largess of $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs led by Ivanka Trump.) It is not difficult to visualize how a single miscalculation could extend the conflagration throughout the region with Muslim nations committed to their own total annihilation. The major beneficiary of such cataclysm would be the U.S.: from the sale of weapons of mass destruction to its vassal Gulf States and then from “reconstruction” with the pickings of leftovers.
Historians will claim that Shia-Sunni antagonism has been as old as Islam itself. That may be true, but it has been low intensity, sporadic and never as foreboding as any impending conflict. The Muslim Brotherhood has been painted as a terrorist organization primarily by countries with totalitarian, anti-democratic regimes that have little concern for social, economic and educational justice and the rule of law. They have a greater vested interest in isolating the Brotherhood than in eradicating ISIS, against which the Brotherhood is the most powerful ideological antidote. Despite its shortcomings, if the Brotherhood is designated a terror group, Muslims in those countries will lose a legitimate key to peacefully reach the ballot box.
If Middle Eastern countries are steered on a deliberate collision course by external forces that are engineered by their own monumental infantilism, there will be multiple failed states with millions of displaced, dispossessed, illiterate, unemployed people. Some, who have lost everything and have nothing more to lose, could scatter from their wastelands, victims of collateral damage. The silence of the so-called Muslim world bodes ill not only for Muslims but also Islam. For this U.S. adventurism, Europe will face a calamitous future. In the accelerated decline of the Muslim world, there may be an element of schadenfreude for some in the binary Western civilization, a deliberately nebulous concoction. But the earth-shattering silence will return to haunt all humanity whose demise it presages.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Trump’s American Exceptionalism is a Return to the Dark Ages
ABDUL CADER ASMAL
It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. — Jiddu Krishnamurti
In the eight months since Donald Trump was sworn in as president, there has been little evidence that his slogan “make America great again” has benefited anyone in the country, besides his own family and friends. Instead, his ongoing divisive rhetoric and rebuttals against “fake news” have further widened the chasm of antipathy across the nation.
Die-hard Trump constituents, quietly brooding over continued hardships, have ramped up their unqualified support, despite, or perhaps because of, the negative portrayal of his efforts. Ideological foes, resisting him at every turn, are convinced he will carry the country to hell in a hand basket.
Meanwhile, all Americans are being anesthetized by the epic and unending wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, terrified by the unpredictable gamesmanship of North Korea, and confounded by the existential threat of nuclear confrontation with Russia.
While these horrendous events are being staged largely in the “Muslim world” and thus deserving of scant coverage in the media, the gut-wrenching topics that directly affect the quality of American lives remain in a death-defying suspension, especially the issues on which the election was pinned. Health care reform — one of the most polarizing election slogans — heads down a perilous vortex, the infrastructure stagnates, the environment asphyxiates, and the promise of job creation remains a cruel hoax for the countless believers who had yearned for the dignity and respect that comes from making a living wage and self-sufficiency.
Xenophobia is the only diet into which Trump’s disaffected followers can sink their teeth. Those who had felt marginalized and voted for Trump, expecting to improve their lives, are primed and programmed to scapegoat immigrants and Muslim refugees, well before (if ever) the “great” jobs materialize. Meanwhile, those who had denounced Trump as a charlatan burn with rage over his inability to act as the leader of the “free world” and stand up against Russian interference in our elections (a charge predictably denied by Russian President Vladimir Putin).
The issues of racism, xenophobia and jingoism raise questions about the intent of “make America great again.” If these extremist views reflect a dark side of America, how do they compare with other vastly divergent views on American exceptionalism?
In his article in The Atlantic (Feb. 2, 2017), How Trump wants to Make America Exceptional Again, author Peter Beinart closely examines Trump’s vision of America, compared with other recent leaders.
Mitt Romney said, “It is our belief in the universality of these (God-given) unalienable rights that leads us to our exceptional role on the world stage, that of a great champion of human dignity and freedom.” Newt Gingrich said it is America’s unfettered capitalism. And former President Barack Obama said it was for its ever-expanding circle of inclusion.
Meanwhile, Trump and travel ban architect Stephen Miller are defining a new and constricted American exceptionalism. It is undeniably deviant in focus and jingoistic in tone as it aims to “keep this country from falling into the same trap as happened to parts of Europe” and contends that “if current trends continue, American Muslims will prove just as dangerous and unassimilable as their European counterparts,” Beinart writes.
Trump describes an exclusive American exceptionalism, represented by an overwhelmingly Jewish and Christian population. To drive home his biased vision, he recently rabble-roused and baited a Polish audience with his demagoguery. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.… Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization against those who subvert and destroy it?”
Rhetoric that is posited as a travel ban on Muslims, a proposed “Muslim” registry and the possible internment of Muslim citizens buttresses Trump’s worldview of American exceptionalism. Such polemics were once the hallmark of the Crusades and are a throwback to the Dark Ages. All humanity, not just Americans, need to recognize that the hatred, fear, bigotry and ignorance being propagated by the current leadership are the same malignant values resuscitated from the dustbin of history, and recently on global display in Charlottesville, North Carolina.
Such values are a sad and atavistic reminder of a time when demonization of Jews nearly extinguished their civilization in Europe. It is thus an act of supreme irony that it is Muslims — who through their magnanimity, inspired by the Scriptures that they used as their moral compass then as they do today — provided sanctuary to the persecuted Jews, yet are being vilified and propagandized as an existential threat to the rest of humanity. With Muslims’ universal condemnation of extremists in their midst, Americans across the great divide must analyze Trump’s interpretation of American exceptionalism. How is his vision consonant with his quest to make America great again? Does it reflect American values, and keep the American Dream alive? Or is this the last hurrah for a great country whose leader’s myopic vision betrays its Constitution? It begins with a soft target of ostensibly attempting to resolve an unsettled medieval score against a religion, in which Islam-bashing is exercised with gleeful impunity, but the end game for which this serves as a convenient decoy is a more primordial target, namely the permanent entrenchment of institutionalized racism!
In Trump’s grandiloquent sermon to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, replete with fire and brimstone, he excoriated North Korea, Iran and Venezuela for wide-ranging “evil activities” but did little to persuade the world body that racism in the United States is not a monumental problem; and that as barbaric as ISIS is, there is an on-stage “live” genocide of dark-skinned Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar on which he remained conspicuously silent. Evidently this is not in his script on American exceptionalism.
Abdul Cader Asmal, MD, is a former president of the Islamic Center of Boston and former president of the Islamic Council of New England.
Mary Lahaj holds a Master’s degree in Religious Studies, is an educator and first Muslim woman chaplain on staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
How Trump Instigates Sectarian Warfare
In recent years, President Donald Trump has questioned the legitimacy of Islam as a world religion. His body of work in this regard is impressive. He posed the deliberately ambiguous question, “Why does Islam hate us?”, proposed the creation of a registry for Muslims in the U.S., issued a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries for those returning home, and framed the malignancy of “radical Islamic terrorism” as a hallmark of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. One would expect at least some pushback from the 55 Muslim leaders invited to the so-called Arab-Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia. Instead we witnessed a charade — the coronation of a triumphant Trump proclaiming, “veni, vidi, vici.”
It was a public humiliation for Muslims that none of the obsequious delegates from Muslim vassal states dared remind Trump about how his pejorative remarks about Islam, not just ISIS, have generated such global hysterical angst about Islam and Muslims. ISIS has been vehemently condemned universally by Muslims. Mainstream Muslims have made a repeated plea not to be broad-brushed with the diabolical terrorists. Muslims have also desperately engaged to extirpate this heresy from their religion. Yet through it all, Muslims have failed to remind the “current world order” that while an aggressive military approach demanded an immediacy of action, a multifaceted strategy based on social, educational, political, economic and above all a religious reform with the universal message of Islam is the key to expunging the heresy of ISIS and others of its ilk from Islam. For practicing Muslims, these goals are their imperatives to reclaim Islam. If implementation of these goals requires the assistance of like-minded law-abiding citizens of the world, so be it. It has to be the world against ISIS. Nothing short of that would work.
What followed during Trump’s participation at the summit was nothing short of monumental hubris from the apparent savior of the Muslim world (from itself). In one breath, he both identified ISIS as an existential threat to civilizational equanimity that had to be eradicated as an imperative by Muslims, as well as Iran as the greatest threat to regional stability as an agent of terrorism. “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it.” This was uttered the same day that ISIS conducted yet another of its diabolical assaults in Manchester, England. Such a statement exposes how out of touch with reality “the leader of the free world” is. Either that or he is playing to the tune of the fiefdoms of the Gulf, or perhaps he is really instigating a full-blown war between Shia and Sunni Muslims, consistent with his expressed belief that “Islam hates us.” It is unlikely that it is unbeknownst to President Trump that ISIS is an avowed enemy of Shias, and that Iran has an unmitigated interest, as does the rest of the civilized world, in ISIS’ total annihilation. Thus, as Muslims fully support Trump’s resolve to eradicate the presence and ideology of the cesspool of terror, ISIS, by every means possible, they also reject his polemicist view that “Islam hates us.”
With Muslim countries exterminating one another and the U.S. profiteering from permanent wars (in other countries’ backyards, with blow back always lurking in the wings), it is not surprising to read the headline, ”Trump: Israelis and Arabs share ‘common cause’ against Iran.” This may help to placate Israelis and bring some measure of “peace” between Arabs and Israelis for a time, but at what cost to the stability and welfare of the entire Middle East? There is also the rising tide of random acts of terrorism elsewhere by those who would have lost everything and have nothing more to lose.
Despite Trump’s confrontational rhetoric, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s response was the hope that once the Trump administration had “settled down,” it would try to understand Iran better.
If Trump does view Iran as a powerful ally in the showdown with heretical cults such as ISIS and can form an allegiance with Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, he will be more likely to broker a peace deal with Israel and Palestine and pulverize ISIS. This would not be possible if he cavorts with contemptible nations that command nothing but visceral loathing by their adversaries who include ISIS, their arms suppliers in the West, their Shia counterparts and the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims living under their oppression. The alternative to this bold alliance and comprehensive strategy is an endless war initiated, sanctioned and bankrolled by the U.S. This will not make America great again, but it will make the entire world a lot less safe.
Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal, MD, PhD, is the former president of the Islamic Center of Boston and the Islamic Council of New England, and director of the Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries.
Craig Considine is a faculty member of the Department of Sociology at Rice University in Houston, and is author of the forthcoming books, Islam, Race and Pluralism in the Pakistani Diaspora (Routledge, July 2017), Between Muhammad and Jesus: A Catholic’s Love of Islam.
*Image: President Donald Trump and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia sign a Joint Strategic Vision Statement for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Flickr/NinianReid.
Muslims must be part of the solution
Pejorative comments on Islam by most of the prospective Republican candidates for the presidential office have left little doubt in the minds of most Americans that the Muslims in this country are a fifth column or cheerleaders for ISIS.
The fact that Muslim leaders around the globe have denounced terrorism as antithetical to the principles of Islam, and have identified ISIS and barbaric cults of its ilk as heretical seems to have done little to counter the anti-Islam rhetoric. This is because the ‘Islamophobia industry’ with an investment of over $208 million over 5 years to demonize Islam has been successful in mainstreaming anti-Islamism. ISIS, and with it, all Muslims loyal to this country have been conflated to pose an “existential threatl”
If the goal of ISIS was to instill terror in its theater of operation with acts of unimaginable barbarity on a daily basis or shock the world with random acts of carnage - the latest being the cold-blooded slaughter of a priest in a church - it has succeeded. Whether directly implicated, or through surrogates, alleged sympathizers, or sheer opportunism, the impact is the same. ISIS has accomplished its goal of institutionalizing terror into the hearts of people, and antagonizing communities against one another. The blowback against the U.S. has generated an exponential political exploitation of Islamophobia, with repugnant comments such as, “Islam hates us” (Trump), a Muslim should only be president if he or she “renounces the tenets of Islam”(Carson), “Police need to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” (Cruz), and “deport every Muslim who believes in Sharia” (Gingrich).
This is painfully ironic for Muslims who are on record against the invasion of Iraq. In a letter to the Boston Globe published Feb. 5, 2003, Imam Abdullah Taalib Faruuq and I wrote that “As loyal citizens of this country we believe that for the United States to go to war would have catastrophic consequences.
“For the Muslim world such war-mongering looks like a crusade against Islam that would only reinforce the distorted agenda of extremists and reduce the hope of eradicating terrorism,” we wrote. “Given the disinformation about Islam and the contempt with which Muslims are depicted, it might appear unpatriotic for us to challenge the drumbeat to war. On the other hand, our Islamic principles demand that in fearing God we should speak out against what we perceive as grave injustices about to be committed. It would thus be an act not only of disobedience to God but treason against our own country when we fail to express our concerns in what we believe to be in the best interest of our country and the world at large.”
It gives us no comfort that our prophecy has proven to be true. The showdown with Saddam was no cake walk, as predicted by the neocons. On the contrary our occupation led to the wanton degradation of an entire nation and its multicultural society, instigated a brutal Sunni-Shia internecine slaughter with fragmented sects caught in the crossfire, and led to the evolution of al-Qaida in Iraq which then morphed into ISIS.
ISIS is the more demonic version of the heretical cult based on the fascistic heresy that Bin Laden injected into Islam. ISIS is a conglomerate of heretics gone berserk, so-called Saddam loyalists, the disbanded Republican Guards, ordinary Sunni Iraqis who lost homes, families, sustenance and dignity, tribal chieftains, criminals, and hordes of foreigners attracted by a newly formed “caliphate” - a precursor to the apocalypse.
Though Islam forbids vicarious retribution, the heretical decree promoting religious justification for acts of terrorism (marketed as “jihad”), proved to be too beguiling, especially for most who have little understanding of Islam. The same fallacy galvanizes ISIS-sympathizers elsewhere with a burning rage to defend “our oppressed brothers,” or a “rapture” to be a part of the “caliphate,” or at the “apocalyptic showdown” (a living caricature of Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic fiction).
Till ISIS is vanquished through a multifaceted approach, including military operations, economic, social, educational, political and religious reform, a strategic element must not be overlooked. As a game-changer, Muslims must be accepted as a part of the solution rather than the problem, especially when in the name of God and country Muslims have already pledged to do what is in the best interest of our country and the world at large.
Abdul Cader Asmal of Needham is past president of the Islamic Council of New England.
First, I want to thank my English teacher, Mrs. Johnson, for always pushing me to do what I wanted. Thank you to Ms. Bagwell and Ms. Sotomayor for always being there for me. And thank you to my parents for doing so much for me.
My names Yusuf Isaacs and I'm a Muslim kid from Durban, South Africa. It's a third world country. A place where my mom, my dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins have been held up at gunpoint. A place where kids, our age, even younger, are on the streets begging for food, for money, for anything. A place where babies are starving. Where some streets are flooded with the worst things you could think of. Drugs, violence, and all the more. My religion, Islam, teaches us to give to the poor and to never think you’re better than someone for any reason. This is also a part of why we Muslims fast in Ramadan, to feel what what our brothers and sisters go through, while we’re busy living a life full of luxuries.
I had a great life in Durban. I lived in a nice part of the city, but I was still exposed to the scenes I described earlier, even in the smallest forms. Despite all that, I still miss it. I was born there, I lived there for 10 years of my life. I love it, but I wouldn’t choose to live there right now. Luckily I moved here, to Wellesley. My mom won a green card, so my family and I were able to move to the States in December 2012.
I started school at Hardy in the 4th Grade. I was shy at first, this being my first time moving anywhere. I faked an American accent to try to fit in, thinking kids would think my South African accent was weird, even though it was a part of my identity. My true self. I made friends quicker than I thought, people who are still my friends today. Most of the time there for me when I have problems and when I need help. As I reflect on my years here, I’ve learned a lot. I learned from experiences that I didn't want to have. I learned people come and go, relationships break but also form, sometimes for no reason. I learned to put your all into anything you want to achieve, to put your all into your goals. That you have to practice your art. That everything comes with sacrifice. If you have a craving for something, go for it. We’re young. We have time to do what we want. We have time to make mistakes. We have time to take risks.
In March, the authors of All American Boys, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, came to our school to discuss their friendship and their experience writing about race and police brutality. I asked Jason Reynold the following question, “What is your opinion on religious hate?” I remember he said, “It’s terrible. People are out here being hated for their faith. Muslim brothers and sisters are hated for nothing.” For no reason I immediately started tearing up. My religion’s important to me. I don’t understand why some people dislike it, maybe it’s because some people who are “apart” of it choose to commit acts of hate in the name of it, therefore people who don’t follow us judge us. But hearing him say that brought music to my ears. It was amazing to hear someone else say that they understand. To hear someone else say it wasn't okay to hate. To hear someone say that they’re there for you. After the assembly, I talked to Jason about my experiences as a Muslim. I was sobbing. After experiencing all the problems that go on in our school, in our town, in our country, it was good to finally hear someone say it’s not okay for those things to happen, or to be made fun of. He was one of the few people I've met who understood me, to whom I felt like I could talk to. Don't get me wrong, there’s people here who you can talk to about anything you want, who are there for you and who will help you, but he had this way about him, this vibe he gave off, that said he cared for your well being.
For National Poetry Month he wrote a poem about my life experiences and what's happened to me throughout my years. That poem affected everyone around me, my family, here and in South Africa, random people online, and even people at this school. I contributed to this school, through the poem and through Jason, by showing the truth about the ignorance that exists around our school and our world. This school has its ups and downs, it has it’s good sides it's bad sides, it's racism, it's discrimination, but at the same time it also has open arms, willing to help you with anything. It’s a place where any kid can go to a teacher and get help and advice on anything they need. I'm grateful for this school, I'm grateful for my life. This world isn't always great, especially with everything that's been going on recently: racism, terrorism, hatred, and shootings. But we need to be there for each other, to support each other. We need to know we are all some people at this school have. We don't know how people will react to certain things, how the small jokes we say can make someone go home and sob. We need to take care of our community.
For every kid who gets bullied, it’s not okay. For every kid who bullies. It’s not okay. And for every kid who watches and doesn’t do anything, it’s not okay. I was that kid. I know what it’s like to hear those small jokes made about you, they add up, they affect you, they push you down. Don’t think that the words you speak don’t impact other people. Don’t say, “It was just a joke”, or, “I didn’t mean it”. You did mean it, you said it. I hope all of us soon realize this. Like I said earlier, we need to be there for each other. For some people we’re all they have, and if that’s the case we need to treat them like gems and support them.
I want to end this speech telling everyone to enjoy their lives, and while doing that, help make others’ lives more enjoyable. Like I said, we’re young, we have time to do what we want. Also, don’t think you can’t ever do anything. Don’t think there isn’t a solution to anything. This sounds really cheesy, but who would think I’d be up here. I was born halfway across the world, anything’s possible. You just gotta get up and work for what you want.