The immigration ban that President Trump sought to put in place by executive order -- but that the courts have halted in its xenophobic tracks -- is no isolated event divorced from a world view that sees Islam as an enemy.
As this lengthy Guardian piece argues persuasively, Trump's delusions about Islam are visible and they are dangerous. But to understand why and where they came from requires Americans to do something not enough of us seem willing to do -- grasp American history in the context of world history.
First, let's look at the Guardian analysis of the present state of things: "Sixteen years after September 11, the war on Islam that Bush declined to launch has been effectively taken up by the new inhabitant of the White House. 'Anyone who cannot name our enemy,' Donald Trump stated during the campaign, referring to Obama and Hillary Clinton alike, 'is not fit to lead this country.' He immediately did so: 'radical Islam.' . . .
"If the president sends American troops into a Muslim country, he will not be expecting them to spread democracy and free markets. Trump and his closest associates are not into Muslim improvability. Instead, they heed the warnings of the conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, who believes Muslim citizens of the United States are working 'like termites' to hollow out civil society and prepare the way for jihad. Trump’s inner circle is convinced that America is fighting a battle to the death with Islam – not one to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s Muslims. A fear and loathing of Islam is the central plank of the nativist populism that has surged on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Fear seems to be exactly what Trump and others in his camp are offering. As the Guardian piece notes, "One of the main accusations leveled by the new populists at the treacherous global elite (a category easily big enough to include George W. Bush and Barack Obama) is that they have lied to ordinary people about the dangers of Islam and, more specifically, Muslim immigrants. In fact, it is an indication of the success of populist rhetoric that many now regard the threat of Islam and immigration as one and the same."
This leads to a fear that the Muslim neighbor who was born in this country to immigrant parents and who has worked for a local industry for several decades is, in fact, a subversive to be guarded against. The work that has gone into helping to create a religiously welcoming and pluralistic nation gets blown up when such fear takes over.
Beyond that, it blinds people to the reality that although Islam is insistently monotheistic it is far from monolithic. There are many divisions within the religion, and some branches of Islam are working hard to adapt this ancient faith to the realities and uncertainties of post-modern life. And those divisions within Islam have some interesting history behind them -- history that at times includes moves and policies by Western nations including the United States. I won't repeat all of the history the Guardian reports in its analysis authored by Christopher de Bellaigue, whose latest book, The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason, is to be published soon. But that history is crucial. And you can read it for yourself.
The lesson here is that if we buy into the no-gray rhetoric we hear from Trump and others, we not only distort reality, we give ammunition to the violent radicals who truly are out to do us harm. And, yes, there really are people who claim to be Muslims out there who want us all dead.
But putting in place policies and legislation that assumes Islam itself is the enemy and the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim demeans all Americans and our ideals.
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RHETORIC AND REALITY DON'T MATCH
President Trump has promised to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits non-profits such as churches from engaging in partisan politics. But the bills under consideration in Congress on this matter stop well short of Trump's rhetoric, this report notes. Good. The amendment serves a useful purpose, though it needs to be enforced more rigorously.