Most people have treated Donald Trump’s winning the US presidency as a bolt from the blue, despite Nate Silver having given him a 30 per cent chance in his final forecast the day before polling day. Many are outraged; others are fearful for the future of America and the world.
Given his past statements, probably the most worried are Muslims, and I have seen and heard many expressions of concern. Jews are also very concerned given Trump’s use of antisemitic themes echoing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and some of his supporters being neo-Nazi extremists, as the Jewish Chronicle has explained.
What has Trump said about Muslims
In the long campaign from announcing his candidacy on 16 June 2015 to election day on 8 November 2016, Trump has said many things. Few candidates are 100 per cent consistent, but Trump has been more variable than most.
After the November 2015 attacks in Paris, the New York Times and other papers reported Trump’s proposal of requiring Muslims in the United States to compulsorily register in a database. He was untroubled by any comparison with Nazi Germany’s registration of Jews.
After the December 2015 San Bernardino attack, Trump issued a written statement “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
By his August 2016 speech in Arizona on immigration, his views appear to have evolved:
“As soon as I enter office, I am going to ask the Department of State, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to begin a comprehensive review of these cases in order to develop a list of regions and countries from which immigration must be suspended until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.
Countries from which immigration will be suspended would include places like Syria and Libya.
For the price of resettling 1 refugee in the United States, 12 could be resettled in a safe zone in their home region.
Another reform involves new screening tests for all applicants that include an ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.
For instance, in the last five years, we’ve admitted nearly 100,000 immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan – in these two countries, according to Pew research, a majority of residents say that the barbaric practice of honor killings against women are often or sometimes justified.
Applicants will be asked for their views about honor killings, about respect for women and gays and minorities, attitudes on Radical Islam, and many other topics as part of the vetting procedure.”
Some of the Muslims particularly worried about Trump may not have followed the evolution of his positions. Others may be understandably concerned that a person who has already proved erratic might easily revert to his earlier particularly extreme proposals.
Furthermore, regardless of the government’s official policy, over-zealous border security officials may seek to go further in excluding Muslims, as has often occurred under Presidents Bush and Obama, and a president espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric is distinctly unhelpful.
It’s never as bad as it looks
Many of those most concerned about Trump have forgotten that the USA has a constitution which is a beacon for the protection of individual liberty and religious freedom. I find it impossible to imagine a law requiring only Muslims to register in a government database not being struck down as unconstitutional. I suspect that even a law imposing registration requirements equally on adherents of all religions would still fall foul of the constitution.
Furthermore, while the President has a fair amount of ability to instruct government officials by Executive Order, most serious things require laws to be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Even though the Republicans have a majority in both houses, US Senators and Congressmen are far more independent than UK MPs, and many Republicans have their own difficulties with Trump’s views, quite apart from likely resistance from Democrat Senators and Congressmen.
What American Muslims should do
The following proposals should be followed at all times, not just when the US has elected a president who has said unpleasant things about Muslims:
- Ensure that they build relationships with state elected officials as well as Senators and Congressmen, irrespective of party affiliation.
- Build better working relationships with, and give support to, other faith groups who are concerned about civil liberties, and with secular advocacy organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
- Emphasise that American Muslims seek no special rights qua Muslims; only the constitutional rights that every American citizen is entitled to.
What British Muslims should do
While this is primarily a domestic US matter, British Muslims should share their views with the US government, either directly or via the US Ambassador as the Conservative Muslim Forum has done. British Muslims should also ensure that our own Government is aware of their views via their MPs, although from past UK politician’s quite proper reactions to Trump’s comments, such communication is not really needed.
To be frank, the fact that American Muslims face a perceived crisis is indicative of past failures. While many are of course politically active, in general my opinion is that American Muslims have not done enough to engage in politics and to build ties with other like-minded communities, especially American Jews and American Christians.
Furthermore, my perception is that denialism regarding the religious motivations of terrorists who are Muslims is widespread amongst American Muslims, as evidenced by the reactions to Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism policy, which have been attacked in the same way that Prevent was attacked. This damages the image of Muslim Americans in the eyes of non-Muslims. Instead Muslim Americans should seek to lead on Countering Violent Extremism.