Donald Trump, Islam, and the Worst of Both Worlds

Eighteen months ago, I wrote this blog post discussing the issues of Islamophobia and oppression and violence committed in the name of Islam. The gist of the piece was that: 1) discrimination and bigotry against Muslims is inexcusable; 2) oppression and violence are rampant in Islamic societies; 3) The idea that only a tiny minority of extremists hold bigoted, intolerant attitudes or condone oppressive and/or violent behavior does not stand up to closer scrutiny; 4) There are plenty of good, fair-minded Muslims who wholeheartedly oppose oppression, bigotry, and violence; 5) Behavior that is sexist, homophobic, etc. should not be condoned or soft-pedaled, whether the people perpetuating it are Muslim, Christian, or of any other religion or no religion at all; 6) We should combat Islamophobia by insisting on treating all Muslims as individuals rather than by attempting to defend the Islamic religion or Islamic culture. Unfortunately, in the last eighteen months, right-wing Islamophobes have gained political power with the election of Donald Trump, and many (though not all) liberals have failed to effectively counter this problem partly because they continue to insist on defending the Islamic religion and culture and repeating the “tiny minority of extremists” oversimplification. What I recently realized, however, is that Trump effectively embodies the worst of both worlds in this regard.

What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, we have seen in the last eighteen months that Trump has continued on his path of opposing equal rights for Muslims. While he has attempted to publicly downplay and modify his more extreme proposals, such as banning all Muslim immigrants, this represents more of a stylistic shift than anything else. He has endorsed religious profiling of Muslims, racial profiling of Arab Americans, or some combination. After being inaugurated as president, he wasted little time imposing a travel ban on refugees and other immigrants from a number of primarily Islamic countries. Rudy Giuliani, perhaps angry about Trump passing him over for a Cabinet post after he spent a year embarrassing himself, spilled the beans. He explained that Trump had asked him for advice on how to legally keep out Muslim immigrants, revealing that the travel ban was an effort at “stealth banning” Islamic immigration. Trump has also made no bones about prioritizing Christian refugees over Muslim refugees, despite the fact that many Christians and many Muslims have suffered from Islamic terrorism. His platitudes about equal treatment for everyone regardless of religion ring hollow in the face of his actual policies. Such discriminatory treatment is, of course, immoral. It is also detrimental to national security. As people such as Max Boot have pointed out, Europe has experienced significantly more turmoil between Muslim immigrants and the non-Muslim majority than the U.S. has partly because many of these immigrants have not been integrated into the general population. By contrast, in the aggregate, the United States has experienced less internal turmoil because it has done a better job of integrating Muslim immigrants. Trump’s hostile behavior runs the risk of lessening this trend, however, by alienating Muslims who are “in the middle,” so to speak, on issues such as terrorism and Separation of Church and State. The Onion hit the nail on the head by labeling WhiteHouse.gov an ISIS recruitment website.

One would think that, given his bigotry toward Muslims, Trump would at least avoid excusing or soft-pedaling oppressive behavior by conservative/fundamentalist Muslims. One would, however, be wrong. There were warning signs before he became president that this would be the case. In January of 2015, Trump tweeted that, “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted.We have enuf enemies.” (But apparently not enough misspellings!) Effectively, he argued that women were obligated to cater to the sexist attitudes and laws of an Islamic theocracy. Since being elected, however, Trump has shown that this was not an anomaly. On a presidential visit to Saudi Arabia, he bowed to the Saudi Arabian king and participated in a bizarre orb-touching ceremony. He has also made no effort to cut off trade with the nation, despite its atrocious human rights record. These actions are lamentable but relatively normal among American political leaders, if somewhat jarring coming from a man who made “standing up to radical Islam” such a cornerstone of his campaign. He went a step further, however, by accepting the highest civilian award from the Saudi Arabian government. By doing so, he disrespected all of the people who have been oppressed in Saudi Arabia and everyone who has fought for better human rights there. He effectively sent the message that things are not that bad in Saudi Arabia and that the atrocities committed by the government are no big deal.

Trump’s response (or lack thereof) to the treatment of gay people in Chechnya is no better. Homosexuality is illegal in Chechnya, and it has become apparent that there is an ongoing effort by the government to wipe out the gay population. It is, to put it bluntly, a genocide. Since Chechnya is overwhelmingly Muslim, a person could be forgiven for assuming that Trump would denounce the genocide. But wait! Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia, and Trump can’t do enough to cozy up to Putin, so of course, he hasn’t even spoken out against the genocide. And the U.S. has refused to accept gay refugees who are attempting to flee Chechnya.

Effectively, Trump has blended blatant anti-Muslim bigotry with some of the worst kind of “cultural relativism” that gets used to soft-pedal repressive behavior and attitudes in Islamic societies. (Cultural relativism is certainly not always a bad thing, but it is bad when it becomes a means of excusing human rights violations and bigotry.) When good people of the Islamic faith attempt to immigrate to the U.S. and become citizens, he responds to them with hostility. But when it suits his foreign policy/business interests, he is perfectly willing to condone downright heinous actions committed by Islamic theocracies.

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