The outlook for U.S. relations with the Muslim world under President Donald Trump does not look very promising. If the past week is any indicator of what is to come under the Trump administration, tension between the United States and many Muslim-majority countries is likely to be exacerbated.
He has started his so-called Muslim ban by temporarily blocking entry of legal visitors to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries (Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Syria) in addition to temporarily suspending refugee immigration and all-out banning Syrian refugee immigration indefinitely. Iranian officials say they will consider taking reciprocal action by barring U.S. citizens from entering its country.
The president’s past xenophobic rants against an entire faith often invoked language reminiscent of the Crusades. Indeed, Trump’s chief political strategist and former CEO of the far-right Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, said the following to a conference at the Vatican in 2014:
We’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism. … If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places.
During the course of the campaign, Trump preyed upon people’s worst myopic and stereotypical views of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, from his proposed “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” to an assertion that “Islam hates us.”
While campaign rhetoric and actual governing are not always one and the same, the president’s appointments for his Cabinet and senior advisers have only served to reinforce a bleak outlook for U.S. relations with the Muslim world. As Robin Wright points out in an article in The New Yorker, Trump has “surround[ed] himself with Islam bashers” who see a clash between Western society and the Islamic world as the new Cold War, as put forth by Harvard historian Samuel P. Huntington in his controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
While Wright provides several poignant examples of how previous presidents — Democrat and Republican alike — repudiated this thesis, Trump’s nominee for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, continued to push the “clash” idea in a book that he and Michael Ledeen wrote, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. “In it, Flynn and Ledeen argue that some cultures are simply not ‘morally equivalent’ to American society,” Wright notes. “They also argue in favor of an all-out military strategy: ‘We’ve got to attack the Islamists everywhere and in every way.’ ”
Flynn called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” He pointed out that, “We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism and fascism and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism. It is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet, and it has to be excised.”
The rhetoric of Trump and those in his administration is not only logically flawed, it poses a serious threat to our national security
As William McCants, director of The Brooking Institution’s Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, wrote in an insightful piece in the Washington Post, Trump and many in his administration “are convinced Islam’s moral rules, the sharia, not only imperil the safety of Americans but their very way of life.” Trump has subsequently “called for an ‘ideological screening test’ for immigrants ‘who believe that sharia law should supplant American law’.” And the person who would be enforcing this is none other than Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, who “has said that the true threat confronting the United States is ‘the toxic ideology of Islam’ and has proposed screening out immigrants who ‘believe in sharia law’.”
Trump’s chief counselor and former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has long made similar claims. In an article for Mother Jones, Pema Levy points out that soon after the Paris terrorist attacks in late 2015, then-candidate Trump announced his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States until U.S. leaders “can figure out what is going on.” A registry that singles out particular citizens based on their faith goes beyond being simply unconstitutional – it is wholly un-American. To justify his proposal, Trump cited a flawed poll from June 2015 that portrayed American Muslims as increasingly radical and desirous of the choice to be governed by sharia law (Islamic religious law) instead of U.S. laws. Levy writes that it was Conway’s firm, The Polling Company that conducted the poll for Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. Gaffney is a right-wing extremist who has pushed wild conspiracy theories about the dangers of “sharia-adherent” Muslims. He has even suggested that it is the peaceful Muslims we should be most concerned about because they are engaged in a “stealth jihad” to infiltrate the media, financial sector and key positions in the federal government.
The early signs coming from the Trump administration do not bode well for U.S. relations with the Muslim world. The rhetoric of Trump and those in his administration is not only logically flawed, it poses a serious threat to our national security. We must do what we can to avoid this simplistic equating of Islam with terrorism. Misunderstanding and mischaracterizing the threat only serve as a boon to jihadist recruitment. Furthermore, most experts agree that restricting the religious freedoms of Muslims and initiating a war against an entire faith will result in more terrorism, not less.
*Image credit: Flickr/David Boardman
This piece appears in our Winter 2016/2017 print issue.