On December 7, 2015, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign released a press statement calling “for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.” He was publicly saying what an increasing number of Americans over the years have apparently begun to think about Muslims and Islam in terms of the “clear and present” danger to their security and their country.
A press release explained the reason for the ban:
“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims (sic) of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
|A few days after the San Bernardino massacre carried out by jihadists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik (left), Donald Trump (right) called for “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.” (Trump photo by Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons)
Immediately there was a chorus of denunciation of Trump by his political opponents — both Democrats and Republicans — as well as the White House. Support for Trump among Republican primary voters, however, spiked upwards.
A few days before Trump made his call for banning Muslims, the Former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, described the extent to which ISIS, or Daesh, unless defeated, poses a serious security threat to the West. ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria is now as large as the United Kingdom; its influence reaches far beyond, into North and sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, and even Southeast Asia.
Blair stated — after the ritual statement, that
“Islam, as practiced and understood by the large majority of believers, is a peaceful and honourable faith. … a large majority of Muslims completely reject Daesh-like Jihadism and the terrorism which comes with it”:
“However, in many Muslim countries large numbers also believe that the CIA or Jews were behind 9/11. Clerics who proclaim that non-believers and apostates must be killed or call for Jihad against Jews have twitter followings running into millions.”
Despite the reality that Blair described, there still remains much reluctance among politicians in the West to speak frankly about the deep-seated problems of the Muslim world, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. These problems have made violence endemic, and the living conditions of most people in terror-affected regions unbearable. This politically correct reluctance to hold the Muslims who commit violence accountable for the threats they pose to others, has become, over time, untenable.
Superficially, political correctness seems like a kind-hearted civility towards others and empathy with the less fortunate. At a deeper level, however it represents a self-serving uneasiness at possibly being thought judgmental or branded as bigot. At the very deepest level, it is an insult: it infantilizes a vast group of people, as one assumed they were mentally or emotionally incompetent, incapable of take responsibility for their own lives by themselves. In politics, just as self-serving, the reluctance to speak up doubtless springs from the fear of not snagging every possible vote.
Since 9/11, Americans have grown increasingly curious about Muslims and Islam. They seem to have wanted to learn about the culture, politics and history of the Muslim world.
The same cannot be said about Muslims. They do not seem to want to acquire a deeper understanding about America and the West.
There also seems to be a disconnect between Americans in general, and the reflexively politically correct establishment, along with the mainstream media. As Americans watched, President Obama and his administration have engaged in euphemisms to speak about Muslim terrorists or Islamic extremism. Instead, they are referred to as “man-caused disasters” or “workplace violence,” while the “global war on terror” was replaced by “overseas contingency operations.”
The coddling of Muslims and Islam, the fear of giving offense that might fuel more Muslim violence, became the hallmark of the Obama Administration. Even as the situation in the Middle East and the surrounding region radically worsened, the Obama Administration adopted a policy of appeasing Muslims instead of challenging or confronting them.
Trump not only exploited this disconnect to his advantage, but also indicated his intention to reassess America’s relationship with the Muslim world. An examination of the West’s partnership with the Middle East is much needed. “It is where,” in Blair’s words, “the heart of Islam beats.”
It is important to note that Trump’s call is not directed at Islam, but at Muslims — a subtle yet important distinction that got obscured in the controversy on the subject. The ban is, after all, conditional — until the American people and their government have figured out what in the complex reality of the Muslim world — religious, political, economic and cultural — contributes to turning a significant portion of Muslims into jihadi operatives at war against the United States (especially those from the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia).
In making the distinction between Muslims and Islam — the people, not the religion — Trump avoided getting into the weeds of theological debates on Islam. Islam, to many of its critics, is seen as the source of the problem: less of as a religion and more of as a totalitarian ideology.
It is doubtful, however, if such debates have any meaning for the roughly 1.7 billion Muslims, whose numbers are steadily increasing, in terms of undermining their belief in Islam. Such debates mocking what they hold sacred only mock what they hold sacred, and provoke that segment of the Muslim population readily given to rage and violence.
However, a message is being sent: that unless many Muslims can change demonstrably to accept and abide by the social and political norms of American democracy, they may be excluded from entering the United States as immigrants.
This message goes beyond the immediate concerns about vetting for security purposes the Syrian refugees fleeing the devastations of the civil war in their countries: It raises the stakes for Muslims wishing to emigrate to the United States.
This view, if you think about it, is not outrageous. It is, and should be, the right of a nation to insist on the sovereignty of its borders, and to decide who may or may not enter the country. Indeed, in accordance with the existing U.S. laws, the President is constitutionally empowered under Title 8 (Aliens and Nationality) of the U.S. Code, section 1182, to decide who is inadmissible into the country. It is likely, however, that eventually the higher courts may have to decide.
In the meantime, the Muslim world has been put on notice that immigrating to the United States it may no longer be “business as usual” for everyone. Rather, the statement should probably be seen as a warning that the time might have come for Muslims and their governments to examine their share of responsibility in the making of such a ban on Muslims entering America.
The threats from, and the carnage brought about by, extremist Muslims bent upon pushing their global Jihad continue, more or less unchecked. While the emergence of ISIS has destabilized the Middle East and the surrounding region, the specter of radical Islam now hangs ominously over Europe. Tony Blair also said:
“The impact of terrorism is never simply about the tragedy of lives lost. It is the sense of instability, insecurity and fear that comes in its wake…And in the case of nations like ours, with our proud and noble traditions of tolerance and liberty, it makes those very strengths seem like weaknesses in the face of an onslaught that cares nothing for our values and hates our way of life.”
Since the attacks of 9/11/2001, Americans have watched how Western democracies have been overly sensitive in not smearing or profiling all Muslims in countering the violence and terror of the extremist Muslims in their midst. Americans accepted with little protest the extent to which their open and free lifestyle was altered due to security concerns after those attacks. Since then, despite terrorist attacks carried out by extremist Muslims inside the United States, Americans did not turn against their Muslim neighbors. On the contrary, Americans and Europeans, in keeping with their secular and liberal democratic values, have continued to be incredibly accommodating, tolerant, and even protective of the Muslims in their midst.
Americans have also watched the broadening spread of terrorism and warfare in the name of Islam; the intensity of hatred in Muslim countries directed towards the United States; the attacks on American missions; the kidnapping and murder of American citizens by extremist Muslims, and the double-dealing and betrayal by Muslim countries receiving American assistance, such as Pakistan.
They have watched the physical destruction in the Middle East of Christian communities among the oldest in the world; the massacre of Yezidis and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, and of the attacks on Coptic Christians of Egypt whose presence in the Nile valley pre-dates the arrival of Arabs as Muslims in the seventh century, C.E.
Americans have watched the unremitting violence of Palestinians against Jews in Israel, and have heard – and keep hearing — the bile of anti-Semitic racism flood forth from the mouths of political leaders, such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, from mosque pulpits across the Muslim world, from sanctimonious Europeans and from the viciously bigoted United Nations.
All the while, Americans have waited to hear Muslims in their midst — safe and secure from the savagery across the Middle East and North Africa — step forward in credible numbers to condemn the perpetrators of such horrific violence. Often they are happy to denounce “violence,” but almost never by naming names. The failure to do so raises suspicions — not surprisingly — that maybe most Muslims are in favor of such actions.
Meaningful condemnations, to be taken seriously by non-Muslims, could then become the prelude to repudiating those interpretations of Islam that provide for the incitement and justification of violence through jihad.
If Americans, and others in the West, heard Muslims in America more or less unanimously denounce jihadi violence and repudiate the interpretations of Islam that call for warfare against non-Muslims as infidels, this would be doubly reassuring. There would be the promise that American Muslims – secure in their new world home and secure in their faith protected in America – have the confidence, like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to call for reforming Islam, as well as reconciling their belief with modern science and democracy. Americans could see that that Muslims in America are loyal Americans, pledged to defend, protect, and abide by the American constitution.
Instead, organizations claiming to represent American Muslims, such as the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and many local imams or religious leaders in mosques across America, continually appear in media defending Muslims as victims of anti-Islamic bigotry or explaining away Muslim violence and terror as misguided and nothing to do with the “true” teachings of Islam – when neither could be farther from the truth.
Moreover, these organizations are publicly committed to the demand that the American government and courts allow Muslims in America to live in accordance with the code of Islamic laws, Sharia. Again, Americans have not heard from a sufficient numbers Muslims who reject such divisive and regressive demands pushed by CAIR or ISNA in their name.
CAIR, ISNA, and other similar Muslim organizations — either based in mosques, or organized with the support of mosques and offshore money from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries — have their origin in the ideology and politics of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded in Egypt in the 1920s by Hassan al-Banna. His theological innovation was to turn the idea of jihad, or holy war, against non-believers into the organizing principle of his movement. Jihad would reconstitute post-colonial Muslim societies, such as Egypt, on the basis of Sharia and re-establish the institution of the Caliphate abolished by Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk] of Turkey when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled after World War I.
In recent months, beginning with Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Arab member-states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) — led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and supported by Saudi Arabia — declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization in collusion with ISIS. This conclusion apparently has not registered with CAIR and ISNA in America. There has been no sign of American Muslims stepping forth in appreciably large numbers to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and dissociate themselves from the Muslim Brotherhood and all Muslim organizations with links to it.
Americans, driven by their own, have learned since 9/11 that although all Muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists in the news turn out to be Muslims. They have also observed that there is a sufficiently large segment of Muslims sympathetic to whichever cause these terrorists espouse in their attempts to justify their violence. Americans have similarly learned that while Islam is a world religion with a rich and complex history, there is also an aspect in Islam — although it is not unique to Islam
— that sanctions violence against non-believers — both as a defensive measure and to spread Islam beyond its traditional frontiers.
When Trump announced that he would ban Muslims entering America until the representatives of American people have figured out why Muslims hate America, he was speaking for a large number of Americans, even perhaps a majority.
The failing of Muslims in America to take a clear stand against terrorism; and against the parts of Islamic theology that incites and justifies violence against non-believers in Islam. Sadly, Jew-hatred and anti-Christian bigotry have become the signature of Muslim extremists, and have contributed to the rising suspicion among Americans that many Muslims are disloyal to America after making it their home.
Any ban on Muslims entering America would hurt most severely the upper fifth segment of Muslims in their countries. This segment of the Muslim population forms the elite, and this elite is mostly, if not entirely, responsible for the wretched state of affairs that has left the Muslim majority states languishing at the bottom of the list of countries terms of economic development, human rights, gender equality, education, freedom, democracy, or any other criterion.
Immigrating to America became for Muslims belonging to the elite segment of their societies the pathway to escape the anger and frustration of the people as their living conditions worsened. In third world societies, a get-away to America has meant for the elite a readily available exit to avoid being held accountable for their misdeeds.
Herein lies the irony of a U.S. ban: those it would affect most are the Muslim elite, and it would consequently compel them to begin taking responsibility for how they have mismanaged their societies and impoverished their people.
A U.S. ban would set the precedent for other Western democracies to follow, and thereby instill a positive external pressure for the reform from inside Islam and Muslim societies, and greatly assist the efforts of the many Muslims working to reform Islam.
Positive changes in repressive societies could take place the same way as after the signing of the human rights section of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Helsinki Accords provided indispensable support from the outside to human rights activists as well as to dissidents inside the communist states of Eastern Europe.
Eventually the pressure on the Soviet Union and its East European allies to abide by the human rights section of the Accords they had signed dramatically accelerated the end of the Cold War, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. “Rarely,” Henry Kissinger wrote in Years of Renewal, “has a diplomatic process so illuminated the limitations of human foresight.”
Until now, there has been no coordinated effort by Western democracies to put pressure on Muslim countries to abide by the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to which they, as member-states of the United Nations, are signatories. Instead, Western democracies have continued to accommodate Muslim states even as their governments failed to abide by the UDHR, violated human rights of their people, made war, engaged in genocide, and raised and armed terrorists who spread terror by attacking non-Muslim states.
In his final State of the Union address to the American people on January 12, 2016, President Barack Obama spoke about how his administration is engaged in containing, degrading, and defeating “terrorist networks.” What he did not mention were the repeated atrocities committed by Muslim terrorists within the United States, the most recent of which, under his watch, being the massacre in San Bernardino. He did not express the outrage most Americans must have felt watching the attacks on Christian communities of the Middle East, the killing of Christians and minorities by ISIS, the destruction of churches, ancient sites, and works of art from pre-Islamic times in the region. He also did not acknowledge the revulsion Americans must have felt seeing videos of people drowned or burned alive, or having their throats slit by ISIS. These atrocities do not even include ISIS buying and selling kidnapped women and children from minority communities as sex slaves – and all (accurately) in the name of unreformed Islam.
Instead, President Obama said:
“[W]e need to reject any politics – any politics – that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong…When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.”
Obama was engaged in coddling Muslims in the mistaken belief that displaying respect for, and muting criticism of, their faith and them would help to repair the broken friendship between America and the world of Muslims. This was the same message Obama had taken to Cairo, Egypt, soon after his inauguration in 2009, seemingly trying to demonstrate through public diplomacy his own understanding of Islam that his presidency would write a new and better chapter of American-Muslim relations.
But this promise of healing America’s relationship with the Muslim world now, in the eighth and final year of Obama’s term as president, has not materialized. For this failure, Americans cannot be faulted. On the contrary, Americans have watched the situation within the Middle East and the surrounding region dramatically worsen, and the malady of failed Muslim states, with the problems Muslim refugees brought with them to Europe, be exported to the West.
This is why Americans in general – unlike their own elite in politics, business, the media or academia – have not been outraged by calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Trump has expressed publicly what many Americans might privately be thinking would be a circumspect thing to do — as Trump stated, until Americans have figured out what makes many Muslims hate America with such an intensity that they turn to violence and murder.
Until then, a ban on immigration might at last compel Muslims to examine their own ills and start working to remedy them. This certainly — both for Muslims and non-Muslims –could be only for the good.
Salim Mansur is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. He teaches in the department of political science at Western University in London, Ontario. He is the author of Islam’s Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim and Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism.